Struggling Real Madrid faces decisive stretch of matches

MADRID (AP) — Unable to put a stop to its struggling ways, Real Madrid is suddenly facing a pivotal week.

Madrid has only one win in its last five matches in all competitions, and more setbacks in the next three matches could knock the Spanish powerhouse out of the Champions League and leave it in a difficult position in the Spanish league.

Madrid visits Sevilla and hosts Atlético Madrid in the league, and has a crucial game against Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Champions League. A loss to the German team would keep the 13-time European champions from advancing past the group stage for the first time since 1989-90, though Madrid didn’t play in the tournament in 1996-97.

The team coached by Zinedine Zidane is coming off a home loss to Alavés in the Spanish league and a loss at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.

“It’s in the tough times that we have to show our character and pride,” Zidane said. “It’s a shame we couldn’t do better (against Shakhtar), because we deserved better. We’ll have to win the next game, which is our last one. We’ll keep the faith and fight hard, there’s no doubt in my mind about that.”

Madrid got off to a good start in Spain but struggled in the Champions League with draws at Mönchengladbach and a loss against Shakhtar at home. The 2-0 win at Inter Milan was the team’s only victory in its last five matches. In the Spanish league, it drew at Villarreal and lost at Valencia.

Zidane returned to Madrid’s helm in 2019 after quitting while on top following the team’s last European title in 2018. The club didn’t get past the round of 16 of the Champions League in the last two seasons — being eliminated by Ajax in 2019 and Manchester City in 2020.

Zidane led Madrid to three straight Champions League titles and to last year’s Spanish league title, but the recent struggles prompted criticism about his ability to motivate a squad that hasn’t been revamped recently. He dismissed the possibility of stepping down and relayed a message of optimism.

“I’m feeling strong and I’ll give it my all, as I always do,” Zidane said. “The same goes for the players. We have to keep our heads up and turn our attention to the next game. When you’re on a bad run there’s nothing else to do but to help each other out and look ahead to the next match, which is important for us as well.”

Madrid on Saturday visits a Sevilla squad that has already advanced in the Champions League and has won five matches in a row in all competitions. Madrid’s next league opponent will be Atlético, which has won six straight in the domestic competition and is six points ahead of its city rival with a game in hand. An Atlético win in the derby could leave Madrid as much as 12 points back.

Only a victory against Mönchengladbach next Wednesday can secure Madrid a spot in the knockout stage of the Champions League without depending on other results.

Madrid is likely to go through the decisive stretch without some key players because of injuries, including Eden Hazard and captain Sergio Ramos.

___

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

___

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © 2021 . All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Comments

Sign up for breaking news alerts