Barcelona and Real Madrid suffer pre-break slumps

Big clubs can sometimes struggle against weak opposition after their players have been away on World Cup duty. On Sunday, Barcelona and Madrid managed to break new ground by slipping up before the international break.
Barcelona and Real Madrid suffer pre-break slumps

Both sides were coming off tricky Champions League fixtures in Germany. Both sides were missing their key playmakers, Leo Messi and Luka Modric. Both managers indulged in a bit of rotation. Both came a cropper.

It seems silly to talk of a crisis at Real Madrid, still unbeaten this season, but this is the fourth match running which they have drawn when they should have won.

Drawing at Borussia Dortmund is an acceptable result, dropping two points at home to Eibar is not.

Over the years, Madrid have learned not to underestimate Basque opposition. They know about Real Sociedad and Osasuna and Santander, and of course about Bilbao.

But Eibar is a town of just 30,000 people, with a stadium that holds just 6,285, and the club has been in the top division for just three years.

In 2015, they only escaped going down because new financial rules meant Valencia’s third club Elche suffered relegation instead.

Eibar have enjoyed a good start to their season at home, beating Valencia and Socieded and holding Sevilla, but even their most optimistic supporters would not have expected their first-ever point in the Bernabeu with their first-ever goal. None of the players, nor their manager Jose Mendilibar, had even visited the stadium previously, let alone set foot on the pitch.

Historic is the only word for it, and Mendilibar has been making valiant efforts over the past 48 hours to talk it down in time-honoured style: “It’s only one point and now we have to be thinking about the match against Osasuna.”

For Madrid’s part, Zinedine Zidane yesterday blamed a lack of intensity, especially at the start of games, and a failure to win the 50/50 balls (and some of the 60/40s).

“We’re going through a complicated moment. It’s not a crisis, but we can’t continue like this.”

Madrid paper Marca observed that the team are experiencing the same start to the season they had with Rafa Benitez, which is not a comparison that Zidane will have appreciated. He is now without two important players in midfield: Modric, and perhaps more significantly, Casemiro in the holding role.

The comparison that concerns the fans is with Atletico, who showed no signs of their battle with Bayern in winning 2-0 at Valencia and who now top the table on goal difference. They too are unbeaten, but they have conceded only two goals in seven matches.

At least Zidane has been spared the full wrath of Madrid fans, because of Barcelona’s calamitous 4-3 defeat in Vigo on Sunday evening. Vigo is not Barcelona’s favourite city; they have now conceded eight goals in their last two visits. It may partly be the weather — the rain in Spain does not stay mainly in the plain, whatever the song says — and partly that Celta tend to raise their game at home against the top clubs.

On this occasion, it was also down to a comedy of errors, capped by a ludicrous attempt at a clearance by goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen, with the ball rebounding off the chest of Celta’s Pablo Hernandez and into the net.

“He thinks he’s Garrincha,” said Michael Robinson on the TV commentary, one of those caustic remarks which may come to haunt the German, hailed as the next best sweeper-keeper after Manuel Neuer. More truthfully, it was another example of the casual lack of focus which seems periodically to infect the Barcelona back line, in particular their goalkeepers.

Take nothing away from Celta, though. They were deservedly on top after scoring three goals in 12 first-half minutes. Iago Aspas, once of Liverpool, proved to be the scourge of Barcelona for the second year running. In the second half they wobbled, but never panicked.

Like Madrid, Barcelona will bounce back. After the international break they’re at home against Deportivo, Celta’s neighbours just up the coast. Expect some fireworks.

However, as far as Spain are concerned this was not the ideal preparation for their showdown with Italy in Turin on Thursday.

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