Real’s ‘worst start’ leads to third loss

Real’s ‘worst start’ leads to third loss

MADRID • Requiring just one victory from their two remaining games, Real Madrid are in the driving seat to qualify from Group B in the Champions League this week.

The same, however, cannot be said in La Liga. The Spanish champions slumped to their third defeat of the season on Saturday, going down 2-1 at home to unfancied Alaves.

Real have now lost three of their last five home games in all competitions, as many defeats as in their previous 31 matches at home and to make matters worse, Eden Hazard suffered yet another injury.

In what coach Zinedine Zidane described as their “worst start to a game all season”, Madrid were not at the races as Lucas Perez opened the scoring from the spot just five minutes in.

Thibaut Courtois then made a terrible error early in the second half by sending a stray pass to Alaves forward Joselu, who scored easily.

Casemiro grabbed one back four minutes from the end but the visitors hung on for the deserved victory, leaving Zidane perplexed over their league travails.

“I have no explanation, the defeat wasn’t down to our attitude or how well we played, given our performance (in Europe) last week, but you cannot afford to start a match like we did today. That was the worst start we have made this season,” he said.

“We were a little bit better in the second half but what we did was not enough, we did very little to change the game.”

Madrid had six absentees including Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema and Hazard had to be taken off although Zidane insisted the €100 million (S$160 million) forward, who since moving to the Santiago Bernabeu last summer has spent most of the time on the sidelines, was carrying a knock.

The Frenchman is now counting on the return of his missing players as they seek to get back to winning ways in La Liga.

“We have a lot of problems with injuries, we don’t want to look for excuses but that’s the reality,” Zidane said. “Hopefully, when we get players back, we’ll start to improve. Right now, the problem we have is consistency, that’s clear.”

Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid provisionally moved to the top of La Liga alongside Real Sociedad after an own goal by Toni Lato saw the visitors secure a 1-0 victory at Valencia.

Diego Simeone’s men, who have 23 points from nine matches, also have one game in hand and the Mestalla win offers proof of their “huge progress” this term, said the Argentinian coach.

Yesterday, goals by Martin Braithwaite, Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Lionel Messi gave Barcelona a 4-0 victory over Osasuna at the Nou Camp to move up to seventh, nine points behind the co-leaders.

REUTERS