Real Madrid were humbled 3-2 at home by Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night in their Champions League opener and it was tagged “embarrassing” but for many invested onlookers, Wednesday’s disastrous start to the Champions League group stage campaign highlights the state of flux that shrouds the 13-time European champions.
The result marked back-to-back defeats for Zinedine Zidane’s men who had lost 1-0 to newly promoted Cadiz at the Alfredo Di Stefano 5 days earlier.
Now, they look set to face one of their biggest games of the season.
An early visit to the Nou Camp always promised to be a defining fixture but with Ronald Koeman at the start of another Barcelona transition, both sides appear a pale imitation of the powerhouses of bygone years.
The Spanish papers can be unforgiving and they didn’t mince words as they wrote damning headlines about Real’s struggles. Shakhtar who were without 10 first-team players due to Covid-19 found themselves 3-0 up at half-time and Madrid scambled to get a draw but could not.
“Real are the Spanish champions in La Liga last year, and while Shakhtar are a good team, being without 10 players for a long trip from Ukraine, and players who would’ve been in the starting XI, it’s an embarrassing situation. It adds to another one only last Saturday when they lost to Cadiz in Madrid.”
It marked the first time Real Madrid lost three consecutive matches in the Champions League – and in European competition since September 1986. It was also the first time ever that they lost their opening group stage fixture.
Zidane took over an hour to appear in his post-match press conference after his team’s humbling and when he finally emerged, he tells reporters: “We were lacking a bit of everything today but worst of all we were lacking confidence. 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.”
Montero believes the Frenchman will be feeling the heat after two setbacks in a week.
“He’s under pressure,” he says. “We have to remember that the club president, Florentino Perez, usually goes to the dressing room and he did so yesterday for three minutes to try to give the players and the head coach some good feelings and vibes because the situation is extremely bad for Zidane.
“The next two games are extremely important for Real with the second Champions League group stage game against Borussia Monchengladbach coming just days after El Clasico. That game they simply cannot lose as it would put them in a really difficult position to qualify for the knockout round.
“Zidane is under pressure, and many people both in the press and among the fans are talking already about two possibilities to replace him: Raul Gonzalez, the former player, who is now coaching the second team Real Madrid Castilla and Mauricio Pochettino.
“They have to react as a loss on Saturday is not only a setback for themselves but a major boost for their title rivals.”
Barcelona, on the other hand, faces fitness doubts over forward Antoine Griezmann, who stayed on the bench for Barca’s victory over Ferencvaros.
It was not clear whether the Frenchman had been dropped or rested for the 5-1 win.
“He has a chance to play,” says Koeman.
“But it’s not good to discuss his role for every game.”
Jordi Alba, after recovering from a hamstring injury, has been included in the squad but it remains to be seen if the left-back is deemed ready to start.
“Always the last word is with the player,” says Koeman. “If there’s no reaction he has a good chance of playing tomorrow.”
Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane also said defender Sergio Ramos will be available to face Barcelona after recovering from the knee injury that kept him out of the loss to Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.
“Sergio is our captain, our leader,” Zidane says. “He’s recovered, he’s going to be with us. It’s about being one hundred percent though and I think that Sergio is already there.”