MADRID (AP) — Just like that, Real Madrid is under pressure again.
One bad loss was all it took to put the Spanish club on the verge of another crisis, quickly erasing the joy that had come with the hiring of coach Santiago Solari.
Solari had put Madrid back on track after taking over from the fired Julen Lopetegui, but the defending European champions head into their Champions League match against Roma on Tuesday heavily scrutinized following a 3-0 loss at Eibar in the Spanish league.
Madrid’s potential is being questioned again after a troubling performance in its first match since Solari was given the permanent coaching job.
The loss left the team in sixth place, six points behind leader Sevilla. But more concerning was how Madrid succumbed at Ipurua Stadium on Saturday, being outplayed and escaping an even greater beating only thanks to a good performance by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
“We are upset because we went into the international break on a great run that had restored our confidence, then we lose another away game and it keeps us further behind the leaders in the league,” Madrid captain Sergio Ramos said. “We have to take a good look at ourselves. We were not at the level we should be. When you don’t match your opponent in terms of intensity, you are just an average side.”
Solari, a former Madrid player who understands how volatile everything can be at the Spanish powerhouse, did his best to try to remain positive.
“We have to rethink a few things,” he said. “But we were coming off four victories in which there were some positive aspects and in which we did things well, we have to focus on that. The recent games give us reason to remain optimistic.”
Madrid is in good position in the Champions League, tied with Roma at the top of Group G with nine points from four matches. A win in Italy will secure first place for the three-time defending champions.
One thing Solari will likely have to focus on going forward is the team’s defensive system. Madrid has one of the worst defenses in the Spanish league, with 19 goals conceded in 13 matches. Only five teams have conceded more goals in the league.
Among the team’s losses were a 3-0 result at Sevilla and a 5-1 setback against Barcelona at Camp Nou, a demoralizing result that eventually led to Lopetegui’s dismissal only a few months into the season.
Madrid’s defense looked as soft as ever on Saturday, when Eibar easily got near Courtois’ goal. Madrid was unable to keep its opponents from threatening on counterattacks and struggled to clear routine balls crossed into its area. Eibar players weren’t really challenged inside the box as they scored the three goals and had chances for a few more.
The team’s numbers on defense aren’t as bad in the Champions League, where Madrid has conceded only twice in four matches. It can advance to the knockout stage even with a loss to Roma if CSKA Moscow doesn’t win its home match against Viktoria Plzen earlier on Tuesday.
But another setback would leave the club in crisis again, and with Solari carrying a big target on his back.