Why does it take going a goal or man down for football clubs to turn up?

Now that the winter break is over, I have not only regained my inner peace and happiness with the world, I have also noticed a worrying trend that Real Madrid seem to have acquired over their break, and unless Santa Clause brought them memory dust and the ability to forget to turn up in the first half of games, I fail to see what other excuse they can make for this. What then is even more frustrating is the performance they put in during the second half – it looks like an entirely different team, and to be fair, Mourinho did say that’s what he wished for after the first half in the Copa tie against Malaga.

This got me to thinking – no not who I would have in my entirely new first 11 for Los Blancos, because lets face it saying ‘Xavi, Iniesta and Messi’ would be like saying Voldermort – you just don’t do it. No I thought about the amount of times a team totally goes missing in the first half, or until they go a goal down or even a man down and then they produce a performance nothing short of fantastic and end up winning the game.

Take Liverpool’s now infamous comeback in Istanbul – it took until they were three goals down for them to show exactly what got them to the final – well bar a ghost goal that is – and they went on to win the game. If they could do that after all the pain of the first half, what stopped them from doing it initially?

It is much the same when people wonder why a team who is down a player look better than they did before – in fact you would never be able to tell they were a player down. Take Manchester City’s spirited attempt at a comeback in the FA cup – they were goals and a captain down, yet looked like they had 12 men and kept running and pressing right until the very end. Much like Blackburn Rovers, who couldn’t buy a win for all the chicken in India (and lets face it Venky’s have a lot!) yet when they were a man down on the weekend, they managed to pull it together and get the three points to lift them out of the bottom three.

When West Ham were managed by Zola and faced a ten man Arsenal for more than half the game, and still failed to win, Zola lamented the fact that they ‘did not make use of the extra man’ and how often do managers end up saying this – yet perhaps what they should consider is the fact that the team with ten men work even harder, and it can bring the very best out in some players – take Denilson in the aforementioned game – simply phenomenal.

Perhaps it is a mental thing- where players switch off in games they feel are easy and winnable or when they have an extra man and perhaps do not bring everything that they should to the table? This is one explanation, and can offer some reasoning as to why the so called lesser teams can go a goal up – not to mention the fact that they tend to raise their game against a bigger side- and it is entirely possible that the combination of these two factors can mean that a shock result is on the cards.

Players can also be accused of not taking certain games as seriously as they should – goalkeepers and defenders are particularly culpable for this, and often a goal that is conceded is more down to someone switching off than an actual stroke of brilliance by the opposition – something Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes has been guilty of in the past on more than one occasion.

I would put money on the fact that any football fan could name countless occasions where their team has done exactly this – again a possible explanation for cup upsets and dropped points where there should not be.

When such a thing happens, it is up to the managers to unleash the hairdryer in the changing rooms and bring the players to their senses, yet on some occasions it can be too late – and the players only have themselves to blame. Should Real Madrid fail to turn up in the first half of the Clasico on Wednesday, they will find it nigh on impossible to get back into the game – even with the Special One on the sidelines.

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