BARCELONA (Reuters) – Real Madrid’s first ever trip to Wembley to face Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League on Wednesday will come as a welcome distraction to the European and Liga holders in the midst of their worst domestic run of results in five years.
Sunday’s shock 2-1 defeat to Liga newcomers Girona saw them fall eight points behind arch rivals Barcelona in the standings, the biggest gap they have faced with a league leader since their final turbulent campaign under Jose Mourinho in 2012/13.
Madrid were also defending champions in the Portuguese’s final campaign but came unstuck at the start of the season, dropping eight points in their first four games while Barcelona raced ahead, eventually finishing 15 clear of Madrid while Mourinho had an acrimonious split with the dressing room.
The feeling in the Spanish sports press after Zinedine Zidane’s side threw away a 1-0 lead at halftime was one of resignation about Madrid’s faltering campaign, as the 32-times Liga champions have never managed to win the title after falling eight points behind the leaders.
“Madrid vote no to La Liga”, ran a headline on the website of daily newspaper Marca, alluding to the political undertones of Sunday’s game at Girona, Real’s first trip to the troubled region of Catalonia since a banned referendum on independence on Oct. 1 sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in 39 years.
Only Madrid’s goalscorer Isco and forward Karim Benzema were exempt from criticism in Marca, which criticised the team’s usual talisman Cristiano Ronaldo for only scoring once this campaign and called out Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and captain Sergio Ramos for unconvincing displays.
“Isco is out on his own”, ran the cover of newspaper AS, while daily ABC described Madrid as “apathetic”, calling the defeat the team’s worst performance since Zidane took over at the club in January 2016 and began a winning cycle that has yielded seven trophies.
The French coach said Real had lost the game due to two lapses of concentration in the space of four minutes which lead to Cristhian Stuani’s equaliser and Portu’s winner, but denied there was a problem with the team’s attitude.
“What I‘m most annoyed about is not killing the game off when we had the chance to do it,” the coach said in a news conference after Girona snapped Real’s record run of 13 consecutive away wins over the course of two seasons.
“I‘m not worried about a lack of intensity nor enthusiasm, these results can happen in the league but we’ll keep on working hard. I‘m not worried. We didn’t expect this after winning four games in a row but we still want to win the league.”