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Even with Ronaldo, Real already risk gifting Liga title to Barcelona

21 Sep 2017

Problems at home for Real Madrid. If the disappointing draws against Valencia and Levante had seemed bad enough, Wednesday's shock loss to Real Betis means Los Blancos are already seven points behind Barcelona in La Liga. And even with Cristiano Ronaldo back, Zinedine Zidane's side risk falling out of contention in the Primera Division.

League titles are not decided in the fifth round of 38 fixtures and there is a long, long way to go. However, with La Liga won with 90 points or more in recent seasons, a deficit of seven at this early stage is alarming for a Madrid side that had started out as red-hot favourites after winning a Primera Division and Champions League double in 2016-17.

Versus Valencia, Madrid scored only two of their 29 opportunities, many of those clear-cut chances. The result was not a good one, but the performance had been positive and Zidane's side should have won. However, it proved to be the start of a worrying streak at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The Levante game was more frustrating for Los Blancos. Again, Madrid created openings, but lacked firepower as Karim Benzema departed with an injury and Gareth Bale was wasteful in front of goal - the Welsh winger ultimately jeered by the home fans.

Away at Real Sociedad on Sunday, Bale then produced a sensational solo goal as he raced down the wing on a 70-metre run and finish that was reminiscent of his special strike in the 2014 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.

However, at the Bernabeu, where visiting sides sit back, he is deprived of such space and that was the case again on Wednesday, when he hit the post with one superb effort but was greeted again by some tepid whistles from the disgruntled crowd.

One excellent centre by Bale set up Ronaldo for what should have been Madrid's opener in the second half, but the Portuguese blasted way over and he endured a difficult night. In total, the 32-year-old had 12 attempts, but only two of those were on target.

Madrid appear to struggle without a centre-forward in their team. With Benzema still sidelined and Alvaro Morata sold to Chelsea in the summer, the lack of another No.9 has been an issue, and while youngster Borja Mayoral did well at Anoeta on Sunday, he was left out of the team for this match.

Playing without a classic centre-forward, Madrid appear to lack balance in attack, while Bale is deprived space in home matches and Ronaldo's return proved to be a damp squib - even against a Betis side who had rotated their squad for this fixture.

All of that meant Madrid failed to score after netting in all of their previous 73 matches, thereby missing out on a new landmark as Los Blancos had been primed to surpass the record set by Pele's Santos side in the 1960s.

To make matters worse, former Barca B midfielder Toni Sanabria headed home deep into added time to give Betis all three points, meaning Madrid are now seven adrift of Barcelona after just five rounds of La Liga.

It is a dramatic situation, even at this early stage, and Zidane now has plenty of work to do in order to solve an unexpected crisis that leaves Los Blancos not only losing sight of a buoyant Barcelona, but already in danger of throwing away La Liga.

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