Their team had gone out in the previous round, but that didn’t stop Real Madrid fans from revelling in the humiliation of their historic rivals in Lisbon. At least Zinedine Zidane’s side kept their dignity in exiting the Champions League in the round of 16 to Manchester City. There was no dignity in the way Barcelona conceded eight to Bayern Munich in a quarter final defeat that shook the Catalan club to its core.

A summer of soul searching ensued, with political turmoil at the Camp Nou very nearly pushing Lionel Messi out of Barcelona. The 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich snapped something in the Catalans’ psyche as a club, forcing the Barca decision-makers to acknowledge the need for change even if they have still to settle on how to enact that change.

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Four months later and Real Madrid are on the brink of their own Champions League humiliation. Their fate isn’t confirmed yet, but defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday means Zidane’s men are staring an early exit from the competition in the face. Real Madrid now need an Inter result against Borussia Monchengladbach, as well as a win over the Bundesliga side next week, to salvage their last 16 place.

Shakhtar Donetsk celebrate scoring against Real Madrid

Image credit: Getty Images

Real Madrid have never before failed to make it out of the Champions League group stage. This is, after all, the competition that defines them as a club, winning more European Cups than anyone else. While their embarrassment hasn’t been as acute as Barcelona’s was in Lisbon in August, the failure to make it out of Group B would prompt just as much soul searching.

This season has been a difficult one for Los Blancos. Defeat in Ukraine means Real Madrid have won just one of their last five matches in all competitions, with a home defeat to Alaves on Saturday already sharpening the pens of the notoriously cutting Madrid press. Zidane was facing questions even before defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk.

If this season is set up nicely for the likes of Atletico Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur, teams who fancy themselves in a war of attrition like most title races across Europe will be due to this season’s unique circumstances, it’s possible Real Madrid find themselves on the flip side of that situation.

Zidane had many of his big hitters out against Shakhtar Donetsk, with Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric all starting, but there was a lethargy to Real Madrid’s performance. Could it be that the shortened season is hindering Real Madrid more than most, with Zidane still dependent on an ageing core of players?

Real Madrid, Alavés

Image credit: Eurosport

Like Barcelona, Real Madrid’s patchy transfer record in recent years has only added to their problems. Over £450 million has been spent on new players over the last two years, but watching Los Blancos against Shakhtar Donetsk it was difficult to pinpoint where that money had made a difference on the pitch.

Eden Hazard was signed to be Real Madrid’s new billboard star, but has played just 15 games in the last 12 months - and failed to play 90 minutes in any of these games. Luka Jovic was bought for £56 million as a long-term successor for Benzema, but the Serbian striker has played just 208 minutes so far this season.

Many at Real Madrid are in denial over the stagnation that has occurred at the club. It was only a few months ago that Zidane’s men were crowned Spanish champions, giving the impression of an organisation heading in the right direction, but that success only masked a series of problems. Those problems, however, are becoming impossible to ignore. An early Champions League exit would be Real Madrid’s very own Lisbon.

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26/01/2021 AT 15:59