MADRID • Cristiano Ronaldo is under intense scrutiny after he again failed to shine in Real Madrid's surprise 2-3 La Liga defeat at Sevilla on Sunday.
With the Nov 21 Clasico at home to champions Barcelona looming, his form has set alarm bells ringing - particularly with Karim Benzema sidelined by injury and beset by legal problems.
The striker was charged in an extortion case involving a sex tape featuring fellow French international Mathieu Valbuena.
Jorge Valdano, a former Real player and coach, said that Ronaldo is suffering because of new coach Rafael Benitez's decision to deploy him in a more central attacking role.
"As far as I understand it, Cristiano would prefer to play coming in off the left wing," Valdano told Cadena Ser yesterday. "But he has had to adapt, above all because of the absence of Benzema.
"With Ronaldo, you always have to look at his body language and he is not happy.
"Whether that's because he is not scoring goals or he is not playing in his position, we don't know. But what we can see is that he is not enjoying his football."
It is little wonder that reports have again appeared suggesting that Ronaldo might be seeking an exit at the end of the season.
At first glance, the 30-year-old Portuguese star's numbers appear respectable, with eight goals in 11 La Liga appearances and five in four Champions League outings.
However, five of those domestic goals came in one game against an abject Espanyol. If they are discounted, he would have made his worst start to a La Liga campaign since his debut season in 2009-10.
Against Sevilla, he was a shadow of the goal machine who has netted more than 40 times in three of his six seasons in Spain, including 48 last term.
He also struggled to connect with team-mates. In one attack, he tried to score himself when Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez were all better placed.
At one point, he also appeared to lash out at an opponent.
The forward's overall performance suggested something is very wrong with him. And as he trudged off the pitch, he appeared to be complaining bitterly to Real captain Sergio Ramos.
Yesterday, he was given permission to sit out training by Benitez.
Whatever is ailing the three-time Fifa Ballon d'Or winner, Benitez needs him to be back in top form for Barca's visit, otherwise Real could find themselves six points adrift of their arch-rivals.