Parallel universe: Madrid’s performance not catastrophic, just complacent

“We came up against a better team who put in a better performance on the night. In all aspects of play they were superior”

As Zinedine Zidane mournfully uttered these words after his Real Madrid side were thoroughly outclassed and outfought by Tottenham Hotspur, it felt like we’d all slipped into a parallel universe like poor little Will Byers from Stranger Things.

It was the first time Madrid had lost a group stage game in the Champions League for over five years. They looked horribly out-of-sorts, sluggish, arrogant even – the 3-1 loss flattered them.

However, last night wasn’t necessarily cataclysmic for the European champions, nor ‘career-defining’ for Zidane, as some have suggested. It was just complacent and unprofessional.

Madrid are already eight points off the pace in La Liga with only 20 points from the opening 10 games. It’s their worst start to a season since 2012/13 – the trophyless campaign which got Jose Mourinho the sack. Despite winning the last two Champions League trophies, the Frenchman is now under-fire more than ever before.

Cristiano Ronaldo looked bemused by his teammates’ performances, as though their lack of ruthlessness was somehow human. He talked of merely a blip in form – they’re used to winning, he said.

Unsurprisingly, Los Blancos’ poor form mirrors his own. Ronaldo has only one goal in La Liga so far this season, compared with 11 for Messi. And so the tedious rumours of his return to Old Trafford begin afresh.

That’s not to take the shine off Spurs though. Mauricio Pochettino said the result will make Tottenham “more visible”, meaning the rest of Europe will now view them as serious contenders.

Perhaps most encouragingly, the match was dominated by a host of English talent – Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Kieran Tripper and Harry Winks. The unwritten rule in football writing since 2015 is that praise must always be ‘effusive’, and Tottenham deserve it all.

Not only was the result positive for the national team, it was also further demonstration of the increasing quality of Premier League teams. English teams sit at the top of the table based on points accrued in the Champions League this season.

While El Classico still contains the major part of the world’s best XI, it’s still refreshing to witness the Premier League’s improvement following an era of total Spanish dominance across the European landscape.

Zidane, Ronaldo and co. clearly have a range of issues to resolve, both on and off the pitch. Tottenham punished them with relative ease in one of the finest nights in their club’s history. Just don’t expect Madrid to be so forgiving in the knockout stages.

Chris Henderson

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