Real Madrid sank to a shock 1-0 defeat by Alaves on Saturday after a 95th-minute winner from Manu Garcia consigned the European champions to a fourth game without victory.
It is four games without a goal too for Julen Lopetegui’s side, their longest scoring drought since 1985, as Garcia headed home to send the Mendizorrotza Stadium wild.
Alaves fans ran onto the pitch to celebrate their famous win and the chants continued long after the final whistle blew.
For Madrid this was another body blow and to make matters worse, Gareth Bale, their chief forward threat, had hobbled off injured late on. He missed the Champions League loss to CSKA Moscow on Tuesday with a groin strain.
Karim Benzema, out of form and bereft of confidence, was off too after being substituted at half-time but it was Thibaut Courtois at fault for the goal. He came for the cross but failed to claim.
It means Barcelona can go three points clear if they win their game in hand against Valencia on Sunday while Alaves’ excellent start to the season continues. They move up to third, level on points with Real.
Lopetegui had been asked on Friday if he felt under pressure at the club he left Spain for on the eve of the World Cup. Talk of change is perhaps premature but it will certainly increase if Madrid cannot find fluency soon and, in particular, if Barca pull away.
The Clasico at the Camp Nou looms at the end of the month.
Bale had been passed fit to start while Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos returned after being rested against CSKA. Courtois took over from Keylor Navas in goal.
The first half was a fight, full of heavy touches, tussles and collisions but largely vacant of clear-cut chances.
Ramos was at the heart of the battle as he clattered Jonathan Calleri and then elbowed the Alaves striker in the face. The referee deemed it accidental but Calleri clearly did not and responded soon after with a late clip on the defender’s leg.
Bale span in behind, backheeled to Benzema who teed up Dani Ceballos to shoot, before Benzema had a header volleyed off the line by Victor Laguardia.
But Alaves grew into the half and it took Raphael Varane’s diving header to prevent Ibai Gomez from tapping in at the back post.
Benzema was hauled off at half-time and Mariano Diaz instantly looked more dangerous. Only a dangling Laguardia leg ended his weaving run in the penalty area while Real right-back Alvaro Odriozola was slipped in behind but failed to find a team-mate with the pull-back. Lopetegui threw his arms up in frustration.
The rain came down, the whistles grew louder as Madrid dominated possession but Alaves could have won it sooner when Jony sprinted clear, only to drag his finish wide.
Bale went off and another Alaves chance came in injury time. Courtois came for a cross but failed to gather, allowing Garcia to head in a dramatic winner.
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Teenage Brazilian forward Vinicius Junior has impressed Real Madrid staff sufficiently to get more minutes at Alaves and help break the club’s poor goalscoring run, according to reports.
Vinicius, 18, has flitted between the first team and ‘B’ team since he linked up with Los Blancos this summer from Flamengo.
The wonderkid came off the substitutes’ bench in last weekend’s goalless stalemate with Atletico Madrid to make his La Liga debut and Marca have stated he should add to these six minutes of action in Saturday’s trip to Mendizorrota Stadium. A start is not likely, however.
Vinicius was an unused substitute for Tuesday’s shock 1-0 loss at CSKA Moscow in the Champions League. That result made it three scoreless matches without a win for Madrid.
Lopetegui has come in for some fierce criticism in the wake of the midweek Champions League defeat at CSKA Moscow, which stretched Real’s winless run to three games.
But the former Spain boss, who took over in controversial circumstances on the eve of the World Cup, said he is only interested in plotting a victory for his side this weekend.
Lopetegui told a press conference: “Do I fear for my position? No. A coach only thinks about preparing his team for the next match.
“I’m not concerned about how the press treats me. All I’m worried about is how the players’ work each day. We are not analysing what people think, we are focused on tomorrow’s game.
“We know there will be spells where we have problems and we have to be able to overcome them.
“We have to look at the good points and correct things which need work. We’ve got the right mentality and absolute confidence in every competition”.
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) October 5, 2018
Real have also failed to score in their last three games, having preceded their defeat in Russia with a 3-0 loss at Sevilla and a goalless draw against city rivals Atletico.
And Lopetegui’s team selection has been questioned after he left both Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos out of the travelling party to Russia, and named Luka Modric as a substitute.
Lopetegui, who confirmed Bale had a “slight knock” and could return at Alaves, added: “We are working every day to improve and it’s clear that the club’s objectives are still intact as we are still fighting for all competitions.
“We see the players and we know that the team is convinced and has played very well at times. We will be judged at the end of the season.”
Sixth-placed Alaves certainly look equipped to pose Lopetegui’s side another threat although their five-match unbeaten run was ended in a 2-1 defeat at Leganes last weekend.
And coach Abelardo is conscious of the size of his team’s task, telling a press conference: “They have to have a bad day and we have to have a perfect day to win.”
The former Barcelona and Spain defender insisted he would not read much into Real’s defeat in Moscow, and believes Lopetegui needs to be given more time to get his message across to his squad.
He added: “It is true Real have had three games without scoring a goal but they are still the third highest scorers in the league.
“They need a period of adaptation under Lopetegui. They are still one of the best teams in the world and we have to play really well to beat them.”