Real Madrid’s shock 3-0 defeat away to Eibar in La Liga on Saturday was the latest piece of evidence to suggest that Los Blancos’ players, and not Julen Lopetegui, are to blame for the club’s woeful start to the season.
It came as no surprise when former Spain head coach Lopetegui was sacked following Madrid’s crushing 5-1 defeat to Barcelona in El Clasico last month, but questions remained as to who was really to blame for the shocking form of the European champions.
The loss of two club icons in a matter of weeks, each of whom had been instrumental in guiding their side to a remarkable feat of three successive Champions League wins, was always going to be a tough blow to cushion.
Eyebrows were raised when Lopetegui was named as Zidane’s successor during the summer, not helped by the farcical nature of the appointment which saw the 52-year-old sacked as Spain head coach in the process.
Nonetheless, it was generally expected that Madrid and Lopetegui had the necessary quality and experience between them to succeed in initiating a new era at the club.
However, Madrid’s deeply troubled campaign to date has suggested that Los Blancos are a club facing greater difficulties - and the club’s star players may in fact be most at fault.
Without the iconic presence of Zidane on the touchline and the galvanising influence of Ronaldo leading from the front on the pitch, Madrid look short of ideas, devoid of influence and shot of confidence.
With club great Santi Solari now at the helm, the ship appeared to have been steadied under the former Los Blancos winger’s influence.
Two consecutive league wins, a Champions League success away to Viktoria Plzen and a Copa del Rey victory over Spanish minnows Melilla, appeared to suggest that Madrid’s season may just be salvaged under Solari.
However, in their most recent outing, a 3-0 humbling away to Eibar has provided a bitter reminder that Madrid’s problems were far from gone but had merely been swept under the carpet.
The fix was temporary at best, as a near-full strength Madrid side crashed back down to earth in the Basque country. Once more, the likes of Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale failed to step up and assert any kind of technical authority, let alone the required leadership.
Ronaldo apart, it is essentially the same Madrid setup which secured a thumping 3-1 win over Liverpool in the Champions League final last term to cement their status as the kings of Europe.
This season, robbed of two star names, the remaining artillery has faltered and buckled under the pressure of continuing their reign. It has been a catastrophic fall from the throne, and one for which Lopetegui was simply cast as the scapegoat.
It will take some effort from Solari to turn the ship around over the course of the season. Lopetegui was a credible name who struggled to beat the drum and restore a faltering Madrid side which appears in desperate need of significant refurbishment.