Antoine Griezmann’s second-half goal brought a third successive La Liga win for Atletico at the Bernabeu, although Ronaldo missed two clear chances which would have changed the result.
Speaking with reporters afterwards, the Portuguese lamented injuries to fellow galacticos Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale — suggesting their lesser-known replacements were not good enough.
“We’re missing Karim, Pepe, Marcelo, Bale and it’s difficult,” Ronaldo said.
“The others who played are not as good.
“Any team needs its best players.
“I’m not saying Danilo, Jese, Lucas [Vazquez] and [Mateo] Kovacic are not good, but those who are missing are very good.”
Pressed about his own performances this year, Ronaldo said he was scoring loads of goals (22 in La Liga and 12 in the Champions League), but suggested he felt let down by team-mates.
“You say I’m playing badly, but I’m scoring goals, in the Champions League nobody is close to me,” he said.
“You say Cristiano has dropped, so Madrid has dropped.
“No. If all the players had my level, we’d be top of the table, maybe. My numbers don’t lie.”
The €20m a year superstar protecting himself, while blaming his own team-mates, immediately set off alarms among supporters hurting from another loss against their historically inferior neighbours.
Soon afterwards club captain Sergio Ramos appeared in the same mixed zone spot on damage limitation duty.
“I’m proud when I see lads working hard and giving everything — like Lucas Vazquez, Jese or Borja Mayoral,” Ramos said.
“I believe Cristiano is too.
“Maybe Cris expressed himself badly. Maybe today or tomorrow, he’ll explain what he really meant.”
Just a few hours later, AS reporter Manu Sainz, very close to Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes, provided this clarification.
“My words have been badly misunderstood,” the statement said.
“I’m not saying I’m better than the others.
“I was referring to injuries to players like Pepe, Bale, Benzema, Marcelo… I have complete respect for my team-mates and never wanted to offend them.
“I don’t believe myself better than anyone.”
That calmed things a little, but the situation around Madrid remains tense.
Zidane replacing the unpopular Rafa Benitez as coach in early January lifted the mood temporarily.
But at Saturday’s post-game news conference, the Frenchman questioned the commitment of his players.
“In a game like this, we have to do more, run more, put our foot in more,” he said.
“If you don’t, this [defeat] will happen.
“Today’s problem was not physical, it was mental. Next year there might be changes, among players and the coach.”
The talk of changes also spread upwards to Perez — with loud shouts of ‘Florentino resign’ ringing around the stadium during the game.
Even usually supportive local sports paper Marca questioned both the president and the players yesterday morning.
“It seems to make no difference whether Benitez or Zidane sit on the bench,” wrote influential columnist Emilio Contreras.
“The results are the same and the way the team play too. The excuses are wearing thin for the players. And for Florentino Perez.”
Zidane and Ronaldo both spoke on Saturday about success in this season’s Champions League saving their season.
But all sides are already positioning themselves for the fallout should they suffer more embarrassment in Europe.
Ten years ago this weekend Perez’s first spell as president ended with him resigning as his first ‘galacticos’ project failed embarrassingly.
His only way to save himself this time around would be to sacrifice some big names. And Ronaldo’s comments on Saturday mean his popularity among both fans and team-mates has been seriously damaged.