Real Madrid’s 2-1 loss to Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday had an end-of-era feel to it—like we were witnessing the passing of the team that has dominated European football over the past decade. It was epitomised by the sight of the team’s leader, Sergio Ramos, being sent off late in the game, which rules him out for the return leg. Having conceded two away goals, it will take, in the words of Mundo Deportivo‘s front cover, “a miracle” for Real Madrid to proceed to the quarter-finals.
City manager Pep Guardiola outfoxed Real Madrid tactically. Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling—who drew a penalty from a clumsy challenge by Dani Carvajal—were a class apart. Although it was Real Madrid’s old failing—a lack of goals—that condemned them to defeat.
The name of Real Madrid’s problem is Cristiano Ronaldo. When he left to join Juventus in the summer of 2018, Real Madrid had scored 42 more goals than Barcelona in the history of La Liga. In the space of 62 weeks, and against a backdrop in which Ronaldo has scored 37 goals in 38 games for club and country this season, Barcelona—helped, of course, by Lionel Messi’s prolific scoring rate, including four goals in a 5-0 win over Eibar last weekend—have inched one goal ahead of Real Madrid.
“Real Madrid are not scoring goals,” says Ramon Calderon, former club president. “Cristiano was scoring 50 goals per season on average over nine years. I’ve always said that it was a big, big mistake to sell him. It’s clear for us that to lose Cristiano has been a great loss. The only reference in attack is Karim Benzema. Gareth Bale is not scoring. He’s having a lot of problems with injuries. He’s not happy playing with Real Madrid, and he’s been saying it publicly, which has upset the fans.
“Vinicius is a young player. He’s fast, and he plays well, but he’s not good at scoring. Luka Jovic has been a failure—he’s not playing and he’s not scoring. We need someone. I don’t know, but perhaps next year we will be able to sign Kylian Mbappe—that’s the dream of all Real Madrid fans.”
Eden Hazard, the man who has taken over Ronaldo’s iconic No. 7 jersey, will likely miss the rest of the season as a result of an ankle injury. His train has yet to leave the station. He’s only scored one official goal for Real Madrid, and worryingly the 29-year-old galactico signing is being compared in the Spanish press to Kaka, which is shorthand for “expensive, injury-prone flop.”
Bale, the anointed heir to Ronaldo, has failed to step up to the plate since Ronaldo’s departure. His decline is marked. Bale used to average 14 league goals per season for Real Madrid. Last season, he scored eight league goals; this season he’s only registered two and has failed to score in the UEFA Champions League.
“Bale has been Real Madrid’s most disappointing player this season,” says Juanma Trueba, a Spanish football writer. “Last season, when Cristiano left, everybody thought Bale would assume the responsibility of being the team’s leader. It hasn’t happened. His performances have been perplexing. He gives the sensation that he wants to leave—that he’s not happy. Now, with the injury to Hazard, Bale is once again extremely important for this team. He’s the only player in the team who can score goals naturally. Benzema is not a natural-born goal scorer.
“Before, people excused Bale. They said he was in the shadow of Cristiano—that his personality was a bit subdued because of Cristiano’s presence—but that wasn’t the case. Cristiano left and Bale remained the same—a guy who didn’t assume his responsibilities. He’s not capable of being a leader of the team.
“People have run out of patience with him because he’s had a lot of years at the club. He arrived as a superstar, but he’s a footballer of bursts, of fleeting moments of brilliance. He lacks regularity in the team and presence. He’s a detached