It only takes one game and one injury to change the mood of a club and Real Madrid have lost some of the supreme confidence they had before their weekend defeat to Levante and the loss of Eden Hazard.
Defeat in the Cuitat de Valencia Stadium in their last game before the face Manchester City on Wednesday in the last-16 of the Champions League was bad enough.
But for it then to be followed up by confirmation that they will be without Hazard, possibly to the end of the season, has even more dampened the euphoria created by a run of 15 games without a loss.
Levante beat them with a Jose Luis Morales wonder goal – the team’s only shot of the match – and that meant the first defeat for Madrid since they lost away to Mallorca in October.
But it came off the back of a draw at home to Celta Vigo the week before and it meant they surrendered top spot in la Liga to title holders Barcelona who they face on Sunday in a Clasico.
Hazard limped off feeling his right ankle and coach Zinedine Zidane immediately feared the worst telling reporters: “it does not look good, it’s the same leg as the previous injury”.
Having missed 82 days of football with a hairline fracture in his ankle sustained in the Champions League clash with Paris Saint Germain last November, Hazard had worked hard to come back looking as fit as when he was at his best for Chelsea last season.
But for all the work put in with Real Madrid’s fitness coach Gregory Dupont at the club’s Valdebebas training ground the test of his recovery was going to be playing successive competitive matches.
Hazard came through the home game with Celta but never got past the Levante defeat.
Zidane must now find away of not missing the Belgium forward who scored 21 goals in all competitions last season for Chelsea and who Madrid hoped would help them in front of goal in the final third of the season.
The shadow of the prolific Cristiano Ronaldo still looms large at the club.
The Spanish media have made a lot in recent days of the statistic that in 93 games Madrid have played since Ronaldo left they have failed to score in 21 encounters.
That contrasts badly with them failing to score in only 36 of the 438 games Ronaldo was involved in when he was at the club.
Zidane certainly has a lengthy cast list from which he can pick the Hazard stand-in.
Gareth Bale is fit, the young Brazilians Vinicius and Rodrygo Goes are both available, and Lucas Vazquez and Isco can also play.
Against Pep Guardiola’s City, Zidane may well feel that trying to keep the ball is the best policy and on-form midfielders Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Fede Valverde and Casemiro could all feature from the start.
On the bright side the statistics can also be used to show that, as good a player as he is, Hazard is not always missed.
Real Madrid’s record with him this season is seven wins, five draws and two defeats.
Without him they have picked up 14 wins, six draws and two defeats. He was also out for most of that 15 game run when they looked in the kind of form that would not leave them fearing City. (dpa)