In 2016-17, Zinedine Zidane’s rotations worked perfectly as the second string stepped up to secure vital victories en route to the title. This term, without James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata, the reserves have been unable to make the same impact.
Last season, Sergio Ramos was heading home last-minute winners to earn dramatic late wins for Los Blancos. But at the RCDE Stadium on Tuesday, the Real Madrid skipper was sent down the pitch as an emergency centre-forward and instead of winning, Madrid lost it as he left space at the back which Gerard Moreno exploited to fire home right at the end.
And while a number of games were decided at the death in Madrid’s favour in La Liga last season, it has not been the same story this time and Espanyol became the third team in the Primera Division to beat Real with a late goal, after Betis and Villarreal.
Then there is Isco. The Madrid midfielder, who equalled Zidane’s 227 Real appearances on Tuesday, was winning games with his sublime skills last season. Recently, though, he has been something of a liability and Los Blancos look more effective these days when he is not playing.
With Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Marcelo and Casemiro all out injured and Cristiano Ronaldo rested, there were plenty of absences for Real. But Zidane’s XI still should have had enough quality to beat an Espanyol side with a dreadful record against Madrid in recent seasons.
No sooner had Madrid impressed on Saturday against Alaves by winning five fixtures in a row for the first time in 2017-18 than suffered another setback and it is really the story of their season.
Moreno’s late strike was perhaps harsh on Zidane’s side, but Espanyol were excellent and also saw a perfectly good goal ruled out earlier on in the evening. And with La Liga lost long ago, Madrid lacked the urgency and the spark to dig out a win they would surely have managed last term.
“We didn’t deserve to lose,” Zidane said after the game on beIN Sports . “I feel bad for the players. It’s a step back because the result is not with us. Today things didn’t go well.”
And asked why the Plan B was not working this season, he replied: “There is no Plan B. We are a team with 25 players. Every match we have to put a team out. We will pick ourselves up.”
Zidane was clearly disappointed and as well he might be. Because everything that went right in La Liga last season has gone wrong this time around. He will hope things go rather better in the Champions League.