Benitez: All of the teams at the top will drop points
Benitez watched his side lose 1-0 to Villarreal on Sunday to continue a worrying trend which has also seen them lose to Barcelona and Sevilla and fail to beat Atletico
Things looked to be on the up. Real Madrid had strung together five straight wins since losing the Clasico at home to Barcelona last month, but Rafa Benitez's side came unstuck again as soon as they faced another top team. After hitting eight past modest Malmo, they were impotent in the 1-0 loss at Villarreal.
Villarreal 1-0 Real Madrid
It was a below-par performance on Sunday - just as it had been in such games all season. Rafa's Real were embarrassingly beaten by Barca, could only draw against Atletico and have also lost to Sevilla and now Villarreal too. They have been found out against the best - a lucky win at home to Paris Saint-Germain aside - and are now five points off the pace in La Liga.
They started slowly at El Madrigal, found themselves behind after just nine minutes to a Roberto Soldado strike and were off the pace for the entire first half. And even though they were much better at the start of the second, poor finishing cost them. Madrid were playing catch-up and created chances through sheer intensity - but they still seemed to lack ideas and the football was underwhelming.
"We have to be more switched on at the beginning of games," Pepe said afterwards. "In the first half we lacked intensity and team spirit." And Benitez added, unconvincingly: "It's difficult to explain. We reacted so well in the second half, so we have to analyse why we didn't do the same thing from the start."
As Pepe said, there was lack of cohesion in attack and throughout the team. Everything had seemed brighter on Tuesday night against a Malmo side struggling in the Swedish league, but versus Villarreal - a team with serious aspirations for a top-four finish in La Liga, Madrid were found wanting again.
It's Madrid's worst start to a Primera Division season since 2008-09 and a missed opportunity after Barcelona let a two-goal lead slip at home to Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.
In fact, Atletico now look likelier to challenge Barca for the title after Diego Simeone's side came from behind to beat Athletic Bilbao at the Vicente Calderon earlier on Sunday to tie with the Catalans at the top of the table. Madrid, meanwhile, are five points back and have failed to score in four games already in La Liga this term.
"We know that in order to fight for La Liga, we have to win a lot of games," Benitez said. "This was one where we had to show that we are serious about winning La Liga. The only positive thing was the reaction of the team."
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But that counts for little and the result leaves Madrid adrift in the title race when they could and should have ended the weekend just two points behind both Barca and Atleti.
"All of the teams at the top will drop points" Benitez said.
At this rate, though, Madrid still seem more susceptible to dropping points than their rivals and they will need to improve fast if they are to avoid falling completely out of contention for the title - and especially in time for their next tough game - after home matches against Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad - away to Valencia in early January.
Benitez, as usual, tried to defend himself with statistics, but his arguments are beginning to wear thin after yet another failure against a quality rival.
"We are still the team that has had the most shots on goal in La Liga," he said. "But we have to be more effective."
It is something of a meaningless stat because it says nothing of the kind of chances being created - and therein lies the problem.
When Carlo Ancelotti took over from Jose Mourinho in 2013, Madrid began to play a technical brand of football with much more emphasis on passing, possession and control of the midfield - even making Barcelona look ordinary on occasions.
With Benitez in charge, however, Madrid's football is more primitive and the impression is that he places more emphasis on the defence and correcting mistakes than actually developing a clear style of play with which to break down the opposition.
Against smaller sides such as Getafe, Espanyol, Malmo and more, there is ample quality to win the games thanks to Madrid's world-class individuals, but versus top teams like Barca, Atletico, Sevilla, Villarreal and PSG, it is not good enough - and at the moment, it looks like it never will be.
Real Madrid CF