Real suffer shock home defeat to Girona, derailing title bid

MADRID (Reuters) – Real Madrid’s resurgent La Liga run skidded to a halt as they fell to a shock 2-1 defeat at home by struggling Girona on Sunday in which captain Sergio Ramos was sent off in added time, leaving them nine points adrift of leaders Barcelona.

Real looked on course for a sixth consecutive league win when Casemiro leapt highest to meet a Toni Kroos cross and head them in front midway through the first half.

But Girona, who had not won in the league since November, came out with a vengeance in the second half, levelling in the 65th minute with a Cristhian Stuani penalty after a handball by Ramos.

Spanish striker Cristian Portu gave Girona an unlikely lead 10 minutes later, nipping in front of Madrid’s lacklustre defender Marcelo to nod in on the rebound after Thibaut Courtois could only parry a shot from visiting forward Anthony Lozano.

Madrid substitutes Gareth Bale and Vinicius Jr each squandered opportunities to level and things got worse when Ramos earned a second yellow card in stoppage time and was sent off for the 25th time in club football.

Real goalkeeper Courtois came close to salvaging an equaliser late on but headed wide, leaving Real third in the standings on 45 points, nine behind table toppers Barcelona, who beat Real Valladolid 1-0 on Saturday and seven back from second-placed Atletico Madrid, 1-0 winners over Rayo Vallecano.

“It’s a real shame, we have lost three points and our direct rivals won, it’s a shame because we were on a good run and we had reduced the gap, now we’re three points further away than we were yesterday,” said Real coach Santiago Solari.

“We have played a lot of games recently and that leads to not just physical tiredness but mental tiredness too, and that may have played a part in us losing energy in the second half.”

Madrid had eased to a 7-3 aggregate win over Girona in the Copa del Rey last month, and with the Catalans sitting one point above the relegation zone and having lost their six previous games, a home win seemed highly likely.

MARCELO WEAKNESS

Solari made six changes from the team that beat Ajax Amsterdam 2-1 in a Champions League last-16 first leg, handing breakout forward Vinicius Jr a rest after 12 consecutive starts and also benching Bale.

But perhaps his biggest mistake was handing the out-of-form left back Marcelo a first league start since Jan. 6.

Girona attacked Marcelo’s right wing throughout the second half, with Portu enjoying particular freedom.

They were finally rewarded for their bold attacking approach when Ramos blocked a goal-bound shot with his hand and a penalty was given.

Girona’s confidence rocketed after equalising while Madrid lacked composure in their attempts to find a way back in the game.

“More than a historic victory, this was a vital victory as we were on such a bad run,” said match winner Portu.

“The key factor in this win was the group’s mentality, it was so difficult to come here on such a bad run but the team always believed in the victory.”