What the heck is wrong with Real Madrid?

by
Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images Sport / Getty

"Crisis" is likely the most common term that greeted Real Madrid supporters on the back pages Thursday morning in the wake of yet another defeat.

Finding a major outlet in Spain that's putting a positive spin on the club's 3-1 loss to Tottenham at Wembley Stadium will be about as difficult as convincing a Lionel Messi supporter to agree with FIFA naming Cristiano Ronaldo World Player of the Year. The country's biggest press agencies lambasted the shortcomings of Zinedine Zidane's squad - and with good reason.

Europe's once indomitable force is off to a worryingly slow start in a season many expected would reach the familiar heights of the last two campaigns. Just six months after ending a five-year wait to win the league title, and a second straight Champions League triumph that increased the club's record haul to 12, Real Madrid's hopes of lifting silverware this season are beginning to fade.

The goal of defending its La Liga crown is already close to slipping away. Sunday's loss to Girona leaves Real Madrid eight points off Barcelona's pace. But domestic frustrations were, until Wednesday at least, masked by the expectation that Zidane's stars would return to form under the bright lights of the Champions League.

Now that Real has shown cracks on the European stage as well, there's plenty of finger-pointing at the Santiago Bernabeu as one of the world's most successful clubs attempts to identify why a relatively unchanged team comprised of the world's best talent isn't meeting expectations just six months after winning the double.

The most blatant issue is perhaps the most unavoidable. Injuries have been an unwelcome theme throughout the season thus far, sidelining several significant first-team regulars.

At Wembley, Real Madrid revealed it doesn't have the depth required to negate the losses of Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal as Tottenham's potent attack bombarded a shaky backline that featured 18-year-old Achraf Hakimi. Gareth Bale has been another glaring absence. His side has struggled to find the back of the net without the Welsh international since he went down with a knock Sept. 26.

Injuries are, of course, impossible to predict, which is why Real Madrid will regret its relatively quiet summer on the transfer market.

Real Madrid's idle approach has now been criticised by Cristiano Ronaldo, who complained the team lacks experience after Pepe, Alvaro Morata, and James Rodriguez departed and were supplanted with young players such as Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos.

Related: Ronaldo: Real Madrid was stronger with Pepe, Morata, Rodriguez

Ronaldo needs to shoulder some of the blame too. The Portuguese superstar has been Real Madrid's only reliable scorer in the Champions League - notching six of the team's eight goals - but, regardless of his five-match suspension to begin the season, his domestic form has left a lot to be desired.

Adding to the team's frustrations up top is Karim Benzema's inability to rediscover his scoring touch. The Frenchman has produced just one goal over eight domestic and continental appearances.

Similar to Benzema, Luka Modric and Casemiro are experiencing a significant dip in form, leaving the midfield reliant on the supremely talented Toni Kroos to deputise. Even the German, though, has been incapable of steering the ship over this prolonged period that's seen teams run riot up the middle of the park.

At this point, it seems daft to suggest that the season is lost and it's time for a major overhaul on the touchline. Yet Zidane will surely start to feel the heat if he's unable to find a solution and return Real Madrid to the awe-inspiring form that fans around the world have come to expect.

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)