Real draws flak after worst start in five years

Reuters
Real was also the defending champion in Jose Mourinho's final campaign but came unstuck at the start of the season, dropping eight points in its first four games
Reuters
Reuters

Girona's Portu (center) celebrates scoring the team's second goal — the winner — against Real Madrid during their Spanish La Liga match at Estadi Montilivi, Girona, on October 29, 2017. The hosts won 2-1.

Real Madrid's first ever trip to Wembley to face Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday will come as a welcome distraction to the European and Liga holder in the midst of its worst domestic run of results in five years.

Sunday's shock 1-2 defeat to Liga newcomer Girona saw it fall eight points behind arch rival Barcelona in the standings, the biggest gap it has faced with a league leader since its final turbulent campaign under Jose Mourinho in 2012/13.

Real was also the defending champion in the Portuguese's final campaign but came unstuck at the start of the season, dropping eight points in its first four games while Barcelona raced ahead, eventually finishing 15 clear of Real 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 Real's faltering campaign, as the 32-time Liga champion has never managed to win the title after falling eight points behind the leader.

"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 October 1 sparked Spain's worst political crisis in 39 years.

Only Real's goalscorer Isco and forward Karim Benzema were exempt from criticism in Marca, which lambasted 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 Real 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 led to Christian Stuani's equalizer 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 at 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."

Girona, 12th in the standings with 12 points, made a promising start to its top-flight debut, earning a draw against Atletico Madrid and a win at Malaga to give fans hopes of a successful season, but it went on a six-game winless streak until defeating Deportivo La Coruna last week.

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