Real Madrid should be thankful for small mercies at the moment. A year ago, Los Blancos were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Leganes. This time, they survived.
Last season’s cup exit was described by coach Zinedine Zidane as his “lowest moment” and it was to be the beginning of the end for the Frenchman, who at the end of May left the club.
Two months later, Cristiano Ronaldo followed him out of the door and Real have not been the same since. Wednesday’s 1-0 loss may matter little in the grand scheme of things, but that is now 10 defeats for Madrid this season. And it is only mid-January.
Not since 1998-1999 have Los Blancos lost that many matches and the season is barely at its halfway stage. Real may be European and world champions and still alive in four competitions this term, but all is not well right now and it showed again on Wednesday.
In scraping past Betis in a fortuitous 2-1 win on Sunday, Madrid had only 26.3 percent of the possession. At Leganes, it was exactly 50 percent, but almost all of the best chances fell to the home side and another goal really would have had Santiago Solari’s side on the ropes.
Madrid’s 3-0 win from the first leg last week was flattering really and ultimately it saw them through to the last eight of the cup competition where stronger sides will await. The Champions League is also just around the corner and significant improvement is needed.
Defensively, Real were all at sea and they had forgotten man Keylor Navas – in the team for the Copa and also because Thibaut Courtois is injured – to thank for a number of superb saves.
In attack, meanwhile, there was no focal point with Karim Benzema also currently sidelined. Against better teams than Leganes, Solari’s side will surely struggle.
The Argentine raced through his post-match press conference in three minutes and 10 seconds as he denied he had a problem with Isco, after player and coach avoided eye contact as the midfielder came off on 68 minutes.
Substitute Brahim Diaz hit the post late on when the visitors were chasing the game, but Real rarely looked like scoring and they need Benzema back soon, along with Gareth Bale, to fix their misfiring forward line.
As a reminder of what they were missing, Cristiano Ronaldo headed home to give Juventus a 1-0 win over AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana, a first title for the Portuguese since he swapped Spain for Turin in the summer.
It was a typical opportunistic effort, the kind that so often averted crises at Madrid, and something similar would be so welcome in these trying times for his former club.
The sensations, however, are not positive at Real right now and unless there is a big shift in form and focus in the weeks ahead, this season seems set for failure in May, or perhaps even sooner than that.