Not so long ago, Real Madrid looked to be cruising. They were top of La Liga, winning games through muscle memory with the last 16 of the Champions League to look forward to having finished as European champions four times in the last six seasons. Now, though, Zinedine Zidane’s side aren’t in such great shape.
A home draw to Celta Vigo followed by a defeat to Levante has seen Real Madrid relinquish their advantage at the top of La Liga and now, after a 2-1 home defeat in the first leg of their last 16 tie against Manchester City, they look set to crash out of the Champions League. Zidane’s side are facing real questions.
While Los Blancos previously saw this Sunday’s Clasico against Barcelona as an opportunity to confirm their superiority over their historic rivals, it has now become an match to save their season. The damage that another defeat would cause isn’t even worth thinking about for Zidane and his players. They must win. Wednesday’s loss to Man City must be forgotten before the weekend.
“We had a good game for 75 minutes,” Zidane insisted after the first leg defeat in the Champions League. “We’re annoyed by the defeat, but the tie lasts 180 minutes. Now we have to take the positives. There aren’t many positive things in the result, but we had a good game apart from the last few minutes. We were good for 70 minutes. Now we have to go there and win if we want to go through. We needed 10 more minutes of concentration in a very difficult match and, in the end, we paid for it.”
It’s certainly true that Real Madrid must maintain their concentration better against Barcelona. The Catalans have a good record at the Santiago Bernabeu and an away win in the Spanish capital would see them go five points clear at the top of La Liga. Barca have suffered inconsistencies of their own over the course of the season, but it would take a real dip in form from Quique Setien’s team for Real Madrid to get back into the race in that scenario.
Real Madrid have recovered from a poor run once before this season. Now they must do so again. They could do with Karim Benzema rediscovering his scoring touch, and with Vinicius Junior finding some composure in the box, among other things. Real Madrid’s season is far from over, but it is crumbling.
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