MADRID, Spain, Oct 30-Following a shock 2-1 defeat to newly-promoted Girona, European champions Real Madrid’s La Liga title challenge is fading fast as they trail leaders Barcelona by eight points.
Real have never overturned that big a deficit to win La Liga and are also four points back on a revitalised Valencia.
Here, AFP Sports looks at what has gone wrong for Madrid just a few months on from winning four trophies (Champions League, La Liga, UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup) in four months.
As rampant inflation engulfed the transfer market, Madrid were praised for their prudence in the summer as they made a 75 million euro profit.
However, in letting Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez, Pepe and Danilo go, Real are now being accused of resting on their laurels.
The club continued their policy of recruiting the best young talent in Spain in Dani Ceballos and Theo Hernandez, whilst Jesus Vallejo, Marcos Llorente and Borja Mayoral returned from loan spells.
That bet on the future may work out in the long-term, but Real’s lack of depth at centre-back, right-back and centre-forward has been exposed, three positions where Morata, Pepe and Danilo bolstered a deep squad last season.
Lack of late shows
Flat form from Madrid through the Autumn months is nothing new. Indeed there is little difference in the level of Real’s performances from this time last season.
Madrid often cruise through the early part of the campaign to save their energies for the business end of the season.
However, unlike last year, Madrid aren’t bailing themselves out of poor displays with late goals to keep themselves in the title race.
Nine times Zinedine Zidane’s men salvaged points in the last 10 minutes of La Liga games last season.
In the current campaign, only Cristiano Ronaldo’s winner at Getafe has snatched victory late on, whilst they conceded in the 93rd minute themselves to lose at home to Real Betis last month.
That lack of late rallies is undoubtedly related to fatigue after a relentless last 12 months.
On top of winning four trophies earlier in the year, Madrid also flew to Japan to win the Club World Cup last December and embarked of a gruelling four-match pre-season tour across the United States.
“In Girona there was a lack of energy,” former Real player, coach and sporting director Jorge Valdano told Onda Cero radio on Sunday.
Success breeds complacency
Zidane couldn’t be accused of taking Girona lightly as he named his strongest available team, including nine of the side that started June’s Champions League final.
However, Real took their foot off the gas after Isco fired them into an early lead in Catalonia.
“We lacked a bit of attitude, we allowed them to come back very easily,” admitted Isco.
“We need to play better and work harder,” added midfielder Casemiro. “Madrid are always obliged to win.”
In his previous eight seasons with Real, Ronaldo’s goal tally after 10 La Liga games read: 5; 11; 10; 11; 8; 17; 8 and 5.
Entering November, Ronaldo has just one league goal this season, in part caused by missing the first four Liga games of the campaign through suspension.
Yet, even since his return, one goal from a total of 40 shots in five games means the Portuguese — recently crowned as FIFA’s player of the year for 2017 — has the lowest shot conversation rate in Europe’s top five leagues.