Champions League or bust now for Real Madrid as La Liga slips away

Sporting News

A crisis is never too far away at Real Madrid. In 2014 Los Blancos ended the year with a best-ever haul of four trophies, yet six months later coach Carlo Ancelotti was sacked. And with 2018 just underway they risk something similar this time around.

Los Blancos bettered their 2014 mark by claiming five titles in 2017, the last of those in mid-December as Zinedine Zidane's men lifted the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi. A week later, however, a 3-0 loss to Barca in the Clasico left a huge dent in their hopes of retaining La Liga.

Madrid were provisionally 14 points adrift of their fierce rivals prior to this weekend's fixtures, with a game in hand due to their participation in the Club World Cup. And after the Blaugrana brushed aside Levante at Camp Nou earlier on Sunday, they could ill afford another slip-up.

Zidane's side nevertheless went behind at Balaidos as Daniel Wass exquisitely chipped Keylor Navas, and although Gareth Bale struck twice to dig the champions out of a hole it was insufficient in the end as Maxi Gomez levelled late on with a header.

Celta Real Madrid score
Celta Real Madrid score

So it was two more points dropped for Madrid and it could have been worse than that, too. Earlier, Iago Aspas had seen his penalty saved by Keylor Navas, while the Spain striker also hit the post and saw an appeal for another spot-kick waved away in the closing stages when it could easily have been awarded.

Defensively, Real were all over the place in the absence of captain Sergio Ramos through injury and Gomez was left completely alone in the box when he headed the second goal for Celta with eight minutes remaining.

Madrid were also carved open for Celta's opener and on several other occasions throughout the 90 minutes. Even with Ramos out, this type of defensive display is not in keeping with a team that was the best in both Spain and Europe last season.

That will be a big concern for Zidane and although the French coach will say that his side can still win La Liga, realistically that looks impossible now - especially as Barca have just welcomed back Ousmane Dembele from injury and also signed Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool.

Gareth Bale Isco Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid
Gareth Bale Isco Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid
Celta celebrate against Real Madrid
Celta celebrate against Real Madrid

The Champions League is always an attraction for Real and Los Blancos have made the competition their own in recent times, winning the trophy in three of the past four seasons. Now they will look to Europe for glory once again - and also to save their season.

But it is extremely difficult to win the Champions League, let alone three years in a row, and the competition looks stronger this year with Barca and Manchester City on fine form, not to mention the fact that Paris Saint-Germain lie in wait for Madrid in the last 16.

MORE: Real Madrid fall further behind Barca after Celta Vigo draw | Barca extend lead atop La Liga with comfortable win over Levante

Real are struggling at the back against most of their rivals right now and it is hard to see on this evidence just how they will be able to contain a trident made up of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani.

Significant improvement will be needed, while failure to keep pace in La Liga could ultimately be an advantage if Zidane decides to rest players in the Primera Division. But one week into 2018 and all the success of last year suddenly seems to have lost its sparkle.

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