MADRID — Real Madrid continued to struggle in away matches under coach Zinedine Zidane with a 1-0 defeat to second-to-last Rayo Vallecano in the Spanish league on Sunday, practically ending the team's chances of catching Atletico Madrid for second place.
A day after seeing Barcelona clinch its second straight title—and eighth in 11 seasons—Madrid stayed nine points behind Atletico with three rounds remaining.
Madrid, which was coming off a 0-0 draw at Getafe, is trying to avoid finishing third for the second straight season. It hasn't finished outside of the top two in consecutive seasons since 1973-74.
Madrid is yet to win in four away matches under Zidane, with a loss against Valencia and draws against Leganes and Getafe, two other teams from Madrid, like Rayo. It has won all four matches at home with the former France great in charge in his second stint.
''I'll usually always defend my players, but not today,'' said Zidane.
''We can't play like that, and I'm responsible as well. We didn't do anything'' he said. ''I'm upset because we didn't send the right message. I'm responsible for it. We have to apologize to the fans and to the club.''
It was one of Madrid's worst games since Zidane—who quit last season after leading the team to three straight Champions League titles—returned to replace Santiago Solari eight matches ago.
''Everything was bad,'' Zidane said. ''The attitude and the game. We didn't give our best effort. There's no explanation for it.''
Rayo, promoted this season, had won only one of its last 13 matches, with 10 losses. It was in last place entering the weekend.
The hosts got the winner with a penalty kick converted by Adrian Embarba in the 23rd minute after a foul awarded by video review.
Rayo moved above Huesca at the bottom of the standings, but it remained six points from safety.