Football: Real Madrid come under fire for lacklustre start

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema castigating himself after missing a chance during their 1-2 loss to Girona. To compound matters, Raphael Varane may miss Wednesday's Champions League tie at Spurs, having suffered an injury during the away defeat.
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema castigating himself after missing a chance during their 1-2 loss to Girona. To compound matters, Raphael Varane may miss Wednesday's Champions League tie at Spurs, having suffered an injury during the away defeat.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

GIRONA (Spain) • Real Madrid's first trip to Wembley to face Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League tomorrow will come as a welcome distraction to the European and LaLiga holders, who are in the midst of their worst domestic run of results in five years.

Sunday's shock 2-1 defeat by Liga newcomers Girona saw them fall eight points behind arch-rivals Barcelona, the biggest gap they have faced with a league leader since their final campaign under Jose Mourinho in 2012-13.

"We aren't popping the cava. We're mature and we knew we had a chance to beat a great side," said Girona coach Pablo Machin.

But the feeling in the Spanish press after Zinedine Zidane's side threw away a 1-0 lead at half-time was one of resignation about Madrid's faltering campaign, as the 32-time 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 goal-scorer Isco and forward Karim Benzema were exempt from criticism in Marca, which criticised the team's usual talisman Cristiano Ronaldo for scoring only 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.

However, the coach refused to fly the white flag, insisting: "We know we can turn this around. We will have better days and our rivals will lose points over the course of the season. There is nothing more we can do, and we know that sooner or later, things will turn.

"There is a long way to go and I am not worried."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'Real flayed by Spanish press after lacklustre start'. Print Edition | Subscribe