It was the latest humiliation in a season full of them, as Madrid produced an abject display against a side that had lost 5-0 to Sevilla in midweek.
Here’s a look at the talking points as Zinedine Zidane ponders the ramifications of another shocking result.
ZIDANE NEEDS TO TAKE CALL ON MODRIC AND OTHER KEY PLAYERS
It’s hard to believe Luka Modric was voted the best player in the world less than a year ago. He looks a shadow of that player at the moment, and has done for the better part of this season. Modric gave the ball away seven times within the first half an hour, and never got better.
Either the fatigue of a season that saw him help Madrid win the Champions League and then a summer where he spearheaded Croatia’s unlikely run to the World Cup final, coupled with a short preseason, has led to Modric never finding his rhythm this season, or this is one of the more stunning declines in recent memory.
Modric isn’t the only culprit – Toni Kroos looks some ways short of his best, as do Raphael Varane and Gareth Bale. Zidane has to decide if some key players simply need rejuvenation, or to be moved on.
Madrid tonight summed up a bit there: two players get in each others’ way, neither clears properly, ball scuffed to Modric, who passes it straight out of play.— The Spanish Football Podcast (@tsf_podcast) April 28, 2019
GRAND NIGHT FOR VALLECANO AMID RELEGATION SCRAP
Even after Sunday’s result Rayo are almost certainly heading down – they’re six points from safety with just three games to play. But though that’s a grim reality, on Sunday they’ll be singing and dancing in the streets of Vallecas for quite a while. This may not be a vintage Real Madrid but it’s not often that Rayo beat their storied neighbours.
And it’s not just that they won. They were genuinely the better side. Paco Jemez’s side had more shots and shots on target, and went nearly toe-to-toe with Madrid on possession – it ended 50.5% to 49.5% in Los Blancos’ favour.
There is glory in the classic backs-to-the-wall job as well, but Rayo outplayed the team that has won the last three Champions League titles.
If one of Madrid’s so-called lesser clubs are indeed going down, they’re heading there after one of the most famous nights in the club’s history.
Rayo Vallecano have beaten Real Madrid in La Liga for the first time in 22 years! 👏 pic.twitter.com/oPIhQktTcS— Goal (@goal) April 28, 2019
MARIANO FAILS TO MAKE HIS CASE
What did Zidane learn about Mariano Diaz on Sunday?
Making his first start under the Frenchman, the successor to Cristiano Ronaldo’s No7 shirt put in a spirited display as lead striker Karim Benzema was given a rest.
There was plenty of passion and commitment, and a few moments of quality – the lobbed finish he produced in the first half was brilliant, though delivered from a clearly offside position and thus rightly chalked off. He also should have had an assist, teeing up an unmarked Bale in the box only for the Welshman to squander the opportunity.
But that was about it. The striker showed plenty of heart, but nothing to convince Zidane that he deserves a run in the side ahead of a summer in which a striker will be prioritised in the transfer window.
Mariano is, remember, the only striker Madrid bought last summer after losing Ronaldo to Juventus. It was meant to be a feted return for a talented player who had left Los Blancos for Lyon, starred, and was deemed ready for the step up. At the moment that judgment looks flawed.
Meanwhile Bale missed this after Mariano set him up. pic.twitter.com/gTavNju4zn— M•A•J (@Ultra_Suristic) April 28, 2019
Rayo entered the game as the league’s bottom-placed team, but at times it was hard to see which side was in the top four and which team was battling against relegation as Madrid struggled to get anything going.
Here’s a look at how Zinedine Zidane’s players rated.
Thibaut Courtois 7 – Made one excellent save, minutes after being beaten by Embarba’s penalty. The only Madrid player completely immune from criticism on Sunday.
Dani Carvajal 7 – A typically combative display, and at times he looked to lead Madrid forward purely by willpower. It wasn’t enough.
Raphael Varane 7 – Struggled at times against Rayo’s energetic front line, but couldn’t be faulted for the hosts’ goal and handled every other test during the game.
Jesus Vallejo 6 – Was victim of perhaps a harsh penalty call determined by VAR, but it could have been avoided with better defending.
Marcelo 6 – Not the best game from the Brazilian, who was suspect defensively and didn’t add enough in attack. Could easily have seen a second yellow late in the game.
Dani Ceballos 6 – Might consider it harsh that he, and not Modric or Kroos, was the first man taken off. Recycled possession well in midfield.
Toni Kroos 5 – More is expected of the German, who, facing one of the league’s worst defences, failed to help his side unlock the back-line and make Madrid’s possession count.
Luka Modric 4 – This is currently the reigning best player in the world. Modric didn’t play like it on Sunday, losing possession in an uncharacteristically sloppy display and having little impact going forward.
Marcos Llorente 6 – Like Ceballos, looked better than his senior and more celebrated colleagues in midfield.
Mariano Diaz 6 – A spirited performance, but one higher on effort than on quality. If this, his first start under Zidane, was an audition then it simply wasn’t enough.
Gareth Bale 5 – The Welshman looked Madrid’s most threatening player – but that was the bare minimum. In a rejigged lineup the responsibility was on Bale to be a game-changer, and he failed.
Brahim Diaz 6 – Came on to provide more attacking thrust for Madrid, but had little impact on the ball.
Isco 6 – Would have been entitled to wonder why he didn’t start, or come on as Zidane’s first substitute. A 15-minute cameo wasn’t enough to salvage this game for Madrid.
Lucas Vazquez N/A – Touched the ball three times after coming on, so he barely had the chance to do anything as Madrid chased a goal.
Real Madrid host Rayo Vallecano in a fixture of little significance to them, but of massive importance for the visitors.
After a promising start to 2019, Vallecano’s season came crumbling down following a woeful run that began in February. Winning just one game ever since, the minnows find themselves in the last position as they enter matchday 35.
A defeat on Sunday coupled with other results going against them could relegate Vallecano.
Madrid will be playing for pride, with players incentivised to impress manager Zinedine Zidane ahead of the next season.
We take a look at some of the talking points ahead of game.
Opportunity comes knocking for Marco Asensio
From scoring screamers against Barcelona in the Spanish Supercup in 2017 to struggling to force himself into the starting line-up, Marco Asensio’s career has clearly hit a speed-bump.
The winger was not a regular under Julen Lopetegui or Santiago Solari and has started just 19 games this season. Given Asensio’s quality and the lack of options Madrid found themselves in during such a poor season, one could assume that the Spaniard should probably have played more.
Vinicius Junior impressed and earned a starter’s spot under Solari and pushed Asensio further down the pecking order.
With Bale looking out of sorts and Karim Benzema – the only threat in Madrid’s front-line – side-lined due to injury, the 23-year-old is bound to start against Vallecano.
The versatile winger can play as a number 10 too and offers a lot of options in the final third – something Madrid desperately need.
With Eden Hazard topping Madrid’s summer shopping list, Asensio must arrest his poor form and bring out his best against Vallecano.
Zizou has his pick, Navas it is
In a span of about two months, Thibaut Courtois won the golden glove at the World Cup and earned a move to Madrid. In the same time, Keylor Navas went from a Champions League winner to a second choice keeper.
However, the Belgian’s debut season for Los Blancos has been dismal. It did not help that injuries have made it harder for the former Chelsea custodian to truly establish himself at the club. The return of Zidane as a manager has further faced him with challenges.
Zidane’s undying faith in the veteran keeper is no secret. It’s been over a month and a half since Courtois started for Madrid, with Navas slowly regaining his place between the sticks.
An argument can be made about how the former has been injured for most parts, but it’s unlikely that the Madrid boss will be changing his preference. Zidane chose Navas over a fully fit Courtois against Getafe and it worked like a charm, much to the delight of the Costa Rican.
Navas faced as much as nine shots – five of which were on target – and dealt with them very well en route to a clean-sheet. Jorge Molina and Jaime Mata – the best attacking duo among dark horses – were kept at bay by the 32-year-old.
Is Navas set to cement his spot as the first choice custodian?
Raphael Varane on red alert
The duo of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane was hailed as arguably the best pairing at centre-back in Europe after they held their own in the Champions League. Two months later, the Frenchman paired with Samuel Umtiti to help France secure the World Cup. Yet again, he was the talk of the town.
Unfortunately for the 26-year-old, his form took a massive dip this season. Every Madrid player has experienced a rough patch but it’s always more obvious for defenders and goalkeepers.
While Ramos has struggled too, the extent of decline pales in comparison to that of Varane. The Frenchman has been erroneous and has looked short of his usual, brilliant self. He has failed to lead the defence whenever Ramos was not on the field due to injuries or suspensions.
Varane clearly lacked competition for his spot in the starting line-up due to lack of squad depth. But Eder Militao’s arrival this summer could change everything.
The Porto defender who has signed for the Spanish giants has shown in the Champions League that he has the potential to start for a top European club. Varane now has something to play for, as he looks to right his wrongs and return to his former glory.