A woeful Real Madrid fell to their first league defeat of the season on Saturday evening, losing 1-0 to Mallorca at Son Moix thanks to a first-half strike from Lago Junior.
Los Blancos made a sluggish start to the game and fell behind after only seven minutes, as Lago cut inside and fired past Thibaut Courtois. Things almost got worse for Zinedine Zidane's men when Ante Budimir put the ball in the net moments later, but it was ruled out for offside.
Madrid almost drew level midway through the first half as James Rodriguez played a delightful lofted pass into the path of Karim Benzema, but the Frenchman's shot came back off the bar. The second half saw Real continue to dominate possession, but they struggled to create any real openings.
The situation got worse for Zidane and his men as right-back Alvaro Odriozola was shown a second yellow card with 16 minutes remaining, and received his marching orders. While the away side still saw the majority of the ball, Mallorca were comfortable in their shape and as time began to run out, Los Blancos looked lost for ideas.
Starting XI: Reina (7); Sastre (5), Valjent (6), Raillo (6), Gamez (6); Febas (7), Baba (6), Sevilla (6); Rodriguez (6), L. Junior (8*), Budimir (7)
Substitutes: Lumor (6), Take (6), Trajkovski (5)
Key Talking Point
Following Barcelona's comfortable win at Eibar, Real Madrid needed to win if they wished to return to the top of the table. Zidane came into this game without the likes of Toni Kroos or Luka Modric in midfield, giving him a selection headache, but the expectation was that the team should still have more than enough quality against a team down in the relegation zone.
However, it was far from straightforward. The team made a catalogue of mistakes in the early exchanges and paid the price, falling a goal behind. But, the main problem was the lack of balance in the team - square pegs in round holes. As part of a 4-4-2 formation, Isco was asked to play in the middle of the park with Casemiro, while James was operating on the right wing, meaning he needed to track back and do his defensive duties.
The issues were clear for all to see, with Mallorca overrunning Los Blancos in midfield, resulting in them conceding the opening goal. Further up the pitch, both Benzema and Luka Jovic were left isolated and unable to impact the game positively. With the game drifting away from Madrid, Zidane made a double change in the hope that it would have the desired impact.
The away side may well have dominated possession, but they rarely ever tested Manolo Reina in the opposition goal and, ultimately, paid the price – handing Barcelona top spot in the table.
Starting XI: Courtois (3); Odriozola (4), Militao (4), Ramos (6), Marcelo (6); Casemiro (5), Isco (4), James (7*), Vinicius Jr. (5); Jovic (4), Benzema (6)
Substitutes: Valverde (5), Rodrygo (5), Brahim (N/A)
STAR PLAYER - It was a sub-par display from Real Madrid, in which far too many players underperformed. However, James Rodriguez was once again the team's standout performer, despite being asked to play out of position.
Playing on the right of the midfield, he was asked to track back and while he struggled in the early moments, he warmed to the task and made a crucial challenge on the edge of his own six-yard box to prevent Mallorca from going two goals up. Going forward, James was the hub of everything good, providing a sumptuous pass through to Benzema in the first half, who saw his effort clip the bar.
His range of passing and vision is impeccable and although it was a tame team display, the attacking midfielder once again proved his worth to the manager after two years of being shopped around to all and sundry.
Mallorca will hope to secure an important three points next time out, as they travel to take on Leganes before hosting Osasuna.
Real Madrid next return to action in the Champions League in , where they will hope to overcome Galatasaray as they look to get their European campaign back on track.