MADRID • Shakhtar Donetsk had travelled to Real Madrid without 10 first-team players and nine of their backroom staff due to a cluster of coronavirus infections at the club.
Yet they somehow managed to pull off a 3-2 win on Wednesday - their first victory over the La Liga giants and the first recorded by a Ukrainian side since Dynamo Kiev 21 years ago - leaving Real coach Zinedine Zidane a worried man.
The visitors blew the 13-time European champions away in the first half, taking a 3-0 lead and missing chances to add to the scoreline.
While Real responded with goals from Luka Modric and Vinicius Jr after the break and had a last-gasp goal ruled out for offside, Zidane could not hide from the fact the Spanish title holders had been outplayed by depleted opponents.
Real have lost their third straight game in the Champions League - their worst run since 1986. They have also been defeated in seven out of eight games when captain Sergio Ramos has not featured.
The Spain defender was left out of Zidane's team over fitness concerns and his leadership was sorely missing at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium. The Frenchman refused to use his absence as an excuse, shouldering the blame for his side's slump in form.
"We were lacking a bit of everything today but worst of all we were lacking confidence," said Zidane, who was an hour late for his post-match press conference.
"It's difficult to think of what to say when you concede three goals in the first half. We made a mistake with their first goal and from then on, it was very difficult.
"I'm left with a very bad feeling because of everything that happened tonight. It's a bad game, a bad night but I'm the coach and I'm the one who has to find solutions. I didn't find them tonight and it's a very difficult moment for the players."
According to Spanish media reports, Zidane was late as he gave his stars a dressing-down and Modric confirmed his outburst, saying: "We lacked confidence.
"We were not at the level required for this competition. The manager has said to us that we have to press more effectively. We have to improve. We have to be united now. The next game will come quickly and we have to play better."
That game is the Clasico at Barcelona tomorrow.
Consecutive losses in the Champions League for Real Madrid.
Losing one game at Madrid represents a crisis, let alone successive games, and a Nou Camp defeat on the heels of upsets by Cadiz in La Liga and Shakhtar will prompt speculation over Zidane's position.
Spanish media outlets are already sharpening their knives, with Madrid-based Marca claiming Real are in "free fall", writing: "Every day, it's worse... and Saturday, it's Barcelona."
Zidane, who has won 11 trophies as Real coach, knows he can hush his critics by winning at their fiercest rivals. But he will have to do so without the injured Eden Hazard, while Ramos remains doubtful.
"I have nothing to say, we're going to turn up there on Saturday and we're going to be prepared. This is a negative night for us but we have to change things," he said.
"I feel awful for the players, who have won so many things for me and don't deserve this. But this is football, one day, everything is grey and the next, the sun comes out. Sometimes, it's very difficult and tonight is one of those times."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS