Missing Men

Having already dropped eight points when only 14 were lost last season, it's crisis time at Real Madrid, making an already interesting clash with Man City even more enticing, says Tim Stannard

Cristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid forward has been feeling 'sad' in recent weeks

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In the middle of a full-blown financial crisis in Spain when even the purchase of the daily newspaper can be a bit of a stretch for the average Jose, the current stumbles and bumbles from Real Madrid must be a goldmine for the likes of Marca and AS. When things are good for the club, the sales of both capital city papers tend to be steady, but nothing more. When the Real Madrid universe collapses in on itself and reality warps, the figures can be spectacular and see the owners sporting suits made of diamonds and scoffing the finest ham that money can buy.

Both Madrid-mad media have had a veritable feast of headline-making material over the past fortnight in what should have been sluggish-sales down-time with Cristiano Ronaldo declaring his discontent to the planet and Real Madrid going into full-on crisis mode after a horrible start to the season.

Last year, the term 'crisis' would have been a relative concept indeed and only wheeled out when just the four goals were whacked past cannon-fodder like Granada. This season, the defeat by Sevilla on Saturday night sees the Santiago Bernabeu side having dropped eight points from 12 in the middle of September when only 14 were lost along the way throughout the whole of the previous campaign.

To make matters worse, Barcelona have a 100% record with four wins from four despite having failed to chug out of third gear. Things are so bad, in fact, that the small matter of Real Madrid never having won the league with an eight point deficit from the leaders wasn't even a concern for Jose Mourinho in the Sanchez Pizjuan. Instead, it was the confession that "at the moment, I don't have a team."

Technically speaking, there were 11 Real Madrid footballers out on the pitch in Andalusia in the famous green shirts of the club, but according to the Portuguese only a handful of them are giving it their all at the moment. "Not many players are focused and have football as their priority," announced the irked coach. During the match it was almost as if some of the players' worst aspects - long suppressed after a brilliant campaign, last year - have reasserted themselves. Ronaldo's shrugs, pouts and shots from long distance in frustration, Higuain's tendency to need three or four chances for every goal scored, Angel di Maria's love of acting like a giant tart and Mesut Ozil vanishing from games.

It was the latter two who were substituted at half-time but Mourinho claimed it was nothing personal. "I wanted to change seven," said the Madrid boss, starting the inevitable speculation on who would have been on his hit list. What was most noticeable about Madrid, though, aside from being listless - a feature of the performances against Granada and the defeat to Getafe especially - was the ill-tempered nature of the players. Higuain should have been off after four minutes for a violent reaction to a tackle and the same for Di Maria later on. This did not look like a football team happy in their skins.

Inevitably, everyone has a different theory as to the causes of the league champions' lackadaisical start to the season. A lack of motivation after last season's domestic success is the front runner, followed by dressing room squabbles, poor pre-season preparation and the old classic of too many off-the-field distractions.

One area which has largely been ignored, though, which seems to be a factor is the quality of the performances from the opposition. Whereas last season, a half-hearted effort against Sevilla or Getafe may have been enough to pick up the three points, perhaps Real Madrid have yet to realise that the other teams in La Liga are starting to work out how to match them and even beat Mourinho's men. To an extent, this goes for Barcelona too who laboured a little against Getafe on Saturday before Lionel Messi and David Villa came off the bench for a late surge to give the Catalan club a 4-1 win in the Coliseum. Real Madrid's 'wham, bam, thank-you Mam' approach and Barcelona's suffocating pressure are no longer big surprises, perhaps.

In the case of Real Madrid, Sevilla lost the same fixture against the visitors 6-2 last year but upped their game enormously on Saturday and played a tactical blinder to exploit the opposition's biggest weaknesses - isolating Xabi Alonso and defending set-pieces.

How this complete mess at Real Madrid will take effect on Tuesday's clash against Manchester City is anyone's guess. The desperate need to unite, get the supporters back on side and give a reminder of the team of last season with the pasting of the upstart English champions is a distinct possibility. But so is a horrendous night of slow torture in the Santiago Bernabeu by world-class players from the Premier League looking to force open the cracks in the morale of the side and make a worrying situation for Real Madrid even worse.

What was already a fascinating contest on so many levels from getting a real sense of Manchester City's level in the European game to the notion of the Primera Liga's Big Two being way ahead of the rest has now taken on an entirely new dimension. And for some in the game in Spain, that's very good for business indeed.

This article first appeared on Football365 here.