Some wrote off Real Madrid’s shock home defeat at the hands of promoted side Cadiz on Saturday as the result of the distraction of the huge matches to follow.
But Los Blancos have nowhere to hide now after being well beaten by Shakhtar Donetsk as their Champions League season got going on Wednesday.
Two second half strikes by Luka Modric and Vinicius Junior made this look like a close encounte,r but that is too kind to Zinedine Zidane’s Spanish champions, who lost 3-2 at home against rampant Ukranian visitors who were missing 13 players, including seven first-team regulars, due to a series of positive Covid-19 tests.
Madrid started the season in underwhelming form but getting results. Now they just look underwhelming.
With the Clasico to come on Saturday, Zidane’s problems are stacking up. It is early, but this has shades of the 2018-19 disasterclass served up by Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari.
The Spanish champions look as if they are not up for the fight far too often, like they have something better to be doing.
There were no excuses for the lamentable first half against Cadiz which saw Madrid go in 1-0 down at the break after being shredded time and time again by the unfancied visitors.
“If they were two or three goals up at the break, there would be nothing we could say,” admitted Zidane post-match. That is just what happened here.
Madrid were equally as bad and Shakhtar – a far more dangerous side than the Andalusian minnows – made it count to lead 3-0 at the break at the Alfredo di Stefano training ground stadium.
It is the first time Madrid have let in three goals in a first half at home in the Champions League since February 2000, against Bayern Munich. Vinicius was not yet born.
Brazilian winger Tete ran amok, finishing coolly after a strong run from Viktor Korniyenko in the 29th minute. They were value for the lead, and doubled it four minutes later when Raphael Varane put through his own net.
Thibaut Courtois parried Tete’s effort and Varane, anxious to stop Dentinho, flicked the ball into the goal. He was picking up where he left off in Europe after his horror show against Manchester City which saw Madrid eliminated in the last 16 of the reprised competition this summer.
And to round off the Blancos’ misery, Tete teed up Solomon with a fine backheel before his team-mate deceived Courtois with a well-taken finish.
Zidane had words at half-time and Madrid showed some spirit in the second half, but Shakhtar had chances too for a third and a fourth, though they wasted them.
Modric’s sensational strike from distance gave the hosts hope, with Vinicius continuing his recent goalscoring form by netting a second almost as soon as he had replaced the disappointing Luka Jovic.
The third almost came in the final stages when Fede Valverde’s shot crept in, but Vincius was correctly ruled to be offside as he obstructed goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin’s view.
The Clasico is next, and this was supposed to be Madrid’s easiest group game. Inter and Borussia Monchengladbach await in the coming weeks.
It is hard to know what is most worrying for Madrid as they have various ills, but the attitude, or lack of it, in the first half was certainly the most aggravating for their supporters, because it was a carbon copy of what happened against Cadiz.
That day Zidane rotated and left out Casemiro. Many pointed to his absence as the reason they were so weak, because Toni Kroos could not shield the defence, leaving Sergio Ramos and Varane badly exposed.
Casemiro, however, started here along with Valverde, who also brings energy, and yet they were thoroughly dismantled in midfield.
Ramos’ absence through injury was telling in that Madrid have six defeats in the last seven Champions League games that he has missed, including the Ajax debacle at Santiago Bernabeu in 2019 – but he was present at the weekend and they still suffered.
It seems nobody is unaffected by this malaise. Even Modric, usually so reliable, was AWOL until his bolt from the blue.
Madrid cannot keep relying on magic like that. They need a formula which works and the truth is, right now, Zidane is staring at an empty whiteboard.