Real Madrid are on the ropes, their 3-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur who manager Zinedine Zidane described as “a better team” their second in five days. Madrid usually put any domestic woe aside when they go into Europe. At Wembley they didn’t.
"All the alarms going off" was the headline on the front of Thursday’s Marca, a Madrid mouthpiece, which added that "Tottenham had a better intensity, speed and finishing".
Rival Madrid-supporting paper AS went with a "Nightmare at Wembley" headline, together with a picture showing Sergio Ramos’ pained expression as Spurs scored again. Tottenham were so good that Mauricio Pochettino, Harry Kane and Delle Alli are now all being linked with moves to Madrid. Pochettino’s words that he expected more from Madrid will hardly comfort Zidane.
In the Primera Liga, Madrid are eight points behind Barcelona after only 10 games, their latest defeat on Sunday at newly promoted Girona. The Catalans enjoyed that one.
The current situation is surprising. Madrid looked outstanding at the start of the season, outclassing Manchester United in the European Super Cup final and Barcelona in both legs of the Spanish Super Cup. Then, the Catalans were perceived to be weakening, yet they are clear at the top of the table after two months.
The relatively poor form of the Spanish clubs in the Champions League is a surprise, too. By a distance Europe’s pre-eminent country in club football in recent years, Barcelona drew 0-0 in Greece this week while Atletico Madrid are in danger of not qualifying from the group stage with no wins and only three points from four games.
Atletico have scored only twice. At least Sevilla beat a Spartak Moscow side who had defeated them two weeks before to stay second in group E.
As the English clubs get excited by their form, it’s still the group stage and Cristiano Ronaldo was right to state after Wednesday’s defeat that “it’s the ending not the beginning that counts”.
This great Madrid side are not finished, with Zidane stating that while his players are not all currently at the same level, but that there is no crisis.
There is significant pressure on the Frenchman, but Madrid didn’t win their group last season and went onto win the competition for the third time in four years. They need only a point to reach the last 16 and remain the team that everyone wants to avoid if they qualify as the second placed team.
Ronaldo is also the Champions League top scorer so far and he also said that while he didn’t want it to sound like an excuse, he said the departed players of Pepe, Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez did make Madrid "stronger". Emboldened by their trophies, Madrid’s barely strengthened in the close season.
They still have formidable players though and have consistently been where it matters, after the season, beating the best to become the best. The players which made them Spanish, European and world champions are largely still there and Zidane, while relatively inexperienced as a manager, can draw on vast experience as a player.
He was there when Monaco beat Madrid 3-1 to knock them out of the 2003-04 Champions League, and that after a 4-2 home win. They struggled that season and ended up trophyless. They can’t afford the same this term.