Real Madrid Faces Europa League Future After 2nd Defeat To Shakhtar Donetsk

With just one matchday remaining, the 13-time European champions are in serious danger.

As things stand, Real Madrid is out of the Champions League. Shakhtar Donetsk, for the second time, has defeated Real, this time by a scoreline of 2-0 at the Olimpiyskiy. 

Although now level on seven points in Group B, Shakhtar holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. Borussia Mönchengladbach could win the group later Tuesday by defeating Inter at Borussia-Park, an outcome that Real would probably accept at this point since Los Blancos could then host a disinterested Gladbach side on the final matchday. 

But no matter how you spin it, a 25th consecutive trip to the knockout round of the Champions League is, for the time being, out of Real’s hands. Inter could do them some favors — especially by beating Shakhtar next Wednesday — but Antonio Conte’s men sit at the bottom of the group for a reason.

The same can and should be said of Real’s potential drop to the Europa League: Zinedine Zidane’s team deserves this fate at the moment. That’ll sound sacrilegious to everyone who’s followed the Champions League over the last decade, but not to those who’ve kept a close eye on Group B this year.

Outside of the two matches against Inter, Real deserved to lose both against Shakhtar. They were incredibly fortunate to draw 2-2 against Gladbach in Germany thanks to Karim Benzema scoring in the 87th minute and Casemiro finding the net in the third minute of stoppage time.  

The problem(s)? Real has performed like clockwork without Sergio Ramos. Of the club’s last 10 matches without Ramos in the UCL, that’s now eight defeats. Real performed well enough without him last Wednesday when keeping a clean sheet against Inter, but that came with the giant asterisk of Arturo Vidal’s ridiculous sending off with only 33 minutes on the clock.

Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to Alavés — engineered largely by Newcastle United flops Florian Lejeune and Joselu — was a more accurate reflection of Real’s current state. But injuries to Ramos and Eden Hazard are one thing — more worrying is the precipitous drop in form to some of Zinedine Zidane’s most trusted servants, including Marcelo, Raphaël Varane, Toni Kroos and Marco Asensio.  

The transition between the old guard and the new simply hasn’t happened. Luka Jović, Martin Ødegaard, Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo haven’t been the talk of Europe, and there’s something forlorn — almost a signal of defeat — in relying on Mariano, Isco and Lucas Vázquez to deliver at this point. 

There’s never been a Real Madrid that gives off such an air of vulnerability on the break, which was ridiculously evident on today’s opening goal from Dentinho. With three Real defenders in proximity, each decided to deflect responsibility to the other.   

The second ... let’s just praise Manor Solomon because he’s been a revelation this season. The 21-year-old Israeli will be in one of Europe’s big leagues shortly, I promise you that.  

The pressure grows on Zidane, which is a fact of life at the Bernabéu, but it’s difficult to see how any manager could get much more out of a squad that’s largely run its race. 

It doesn’t get any easier from here either. On Saturday, Real faces a difficult trip to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán to play fifth-place Sevilla. That’s followed by next Wednesday’s final UCL group stage match against Gladbach at the Alfredo Di Stefano, and then it’s time for a visit from Atlético Madrid on Dec. 12. 

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