Real Madrid: 5 reasons why the Spanish giants are struggling
The result leaves the Champions League holders languishing fifth in La Liga, 10 points behind bitter rivals Barcelona.
The initial optimism which accompanied the uptick in results when manager Santiago Solari replaced Julen Lopetegui in October has now well and truly dissipated, as a club so used to success contemplates a bleak second half of the season.
So what exactly has gone wrong at Real? RT Sport looks at five keys reasons behind the malaise in Madrid.
1. RONALDO – THE IRREPLACEABLE MAN
Starting with perhaps the most obvious point – the departure of talisman Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus in the summer.
The Portuguese star became Real’s all-time top-scorer during his nine years in the Spanish capital. While he was arguably not as adored as he should have been by the Madrid faithful, he was a relentless source of goals – netting at a rate of more than a goal a game (450 goals in 438 appearances).
Removing that from the equation was always going to spell trouble for Real. But few could have predicted just how badly they have missed their former number seven.Also on rt.com Ronaldo breaks YET ANOTHER goal-scoring record as he nets for Juve v Sampdoria
Los Blancos have mustered just 26 goals in their current La Liga campaign – their lowest tally at this stage of the season for 25 years, according to AS.
That paltry total compares to an average of 48 goals in the first 18 games of the league season with Ronaldo at the club.
Indeed, Barca duo Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez have more goals between them (28) than the entire Madrid team.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, is top scorer in the Italian Serie A with 14 goals. Oh how Real could do with stats like that.
2. MANAGERIAL MAYHEM
When club legend Zinedine Zidane shocked the footballing world by stepping down in the summer after guiding Real to an unprecedented three Champions League titles in a row, he was always going to be a hard act to follow.
But the appointment of his successor, then-Spain national team manager Julen Lopetegui, was controversial from the outset.
Naming Lopetegui as coach just days before the start of the World Cup in Russia outraged the Spanish football authorities, who promptly dismissed him.
While that did not necessarily need to be a bad omen for Real, Lopetegui did little to inspire the club during his short-lived tenure, ultimately being sacked after the humiliating 5-1 rout at the hands of Barcelona in October.
He was replaced by former Real player Santiago Solari, promoted from manager of the club's B team.
Solari initially oversaw a mini-revival, leading the team to four consecutive wins in his first four games in charge.Also on rt.com Real revival: Solari's record-breaking start gives Madrid giants cause for optimism
But the optimism was short-lived as Real suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat at Eibar in his fifth game in charge, and later a 3-0 battering by CSKA Moscow at the Bernabeu in the Champions League – Real’s worst-ever home defeat in Europe.
While Real went on to win the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi – beating Japanese and local teams along the way – that could hardly be touted as an impressive achievement given the opposition.
Real have hit out at the officiating in the loss to Sociedad – during which they were reduced to 10 men and felt they were denied a clear penalty – but their uninspiring return from the winter break does not bode well for the team or Solari.
With Jose Mourinho now a free agent after being sacked by Manchester United, and reportedly retaining good ties with Real president Florentino Perez, the former boss is being tipped as stepping into the Bernabeu hotseat for a second time, should the slump contine.
3. STARS FAILING TO SHINE
Despite the departure of Ronaldo, Real still boast current Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric in the ranks among a host of other stars including World Cup winners Raphael Varane and captain Sergio Ramos at the back alongside Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Isco in midfield, and Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale up front.
But Modric has rarely hit the heights of last season – or even come close to them.
"Many of us are not at our level," he admitted after the defeat at the weekend.
And while one player not firing on all cylinders doesn’t have to make or break a team, Real’s galaxy of stars appears stuck in a collective rut this season.
Coupled with that is the feeling that many of the team’s established faces are approaching the tail-end of their careers after proving reliable for so long.
Modric is 33, Ramos is 32, Marcelo is 30, Benzema is 31. While not ancient in footballing terms, sadly for Real they all appear to be struggling at exactly the same time.
4. GARETH BALE – ‘MR GLASS’
One man who was predicted as being able to flourish in the absence of Ronaldo was Welsh star Gareth Bale.
The forward has often been a big-game player for the Spanish giants – with his double helping sink Liverpool in the Champions League final in May – but this season his injury curse has stuck again.
He was dubbed ‘Mr Glass’ by some in the Spanish media after hobbling out of Real’s 2-2 draw against Villarreal on Thursday, which by some counts is the 22nd injury he has suffered since joining the club in 2013.
Gareth Bale ('Mr. Glass') suffers his 22nd injury as a Real Madrid player.pic.twitter.com/ADtcmjPf7o— GPN Sport (@GpnSport) January 5, 2019
It was hoped that Bale, 29, was entering his best years with Real and could step up as a talisman now that attention-hungry Ronaldo had gone.
But injury may mean we never know the full extent of what he is capable of contributing to the Madrid cause.
5. TEAM IN TRANSITION
Related to the point about the current form of Modric and Co. is the notion that Real are a team in transition.
They have talented young players in the ranks such as 18-year-old Brazilian Vinícius Júnior, who emerged from Sunday’s defeat with credit for a bright performance, as well as 23-year-old Marcos Llorente and Brahim Diaz, 19, a $17 million new arrival from Manchester City.
But these and others are very much players for the future. Expecting Vinícius and Diaz to step up and guide Real out of their current woes is surely too much to ask of such precocious talents.
For a club so used to instant success, a transition between the generations may prove interminable for such notoriously demanding fans.
The club may well need to splash the cash in the January transfer window in an attempt to buy their way toward some degree of respectability, for this season at least.