After 2 losses, Madrid reeling before trip to Barcelona

Ferland Mendy in action against Shakhtar Donetsk’s Manor Solomon as Real Madrid coachZinedine Zidane looks on during their match on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 October 2020

After 2 losses, Madrid reeling before trip to Barcelona

BARCELON, Spain: After being humbled by a recently promoted club and a Ukrainian side playing with reserves, Real Madrid face  a trip to Camp Nou.

Barcelona host  Madrid on Saturday in the first clasico under new coach Ronald Koeman. And even though Barcelona are undergoing a rebuilding process after they ended last season without a trophy, Madrid come  to the clash with even more doubts.

Madrid have been outplayed at home by the modest Cadiz and a Shakhtar Donetsk that was without several starters due to a coronavirus outbreak among the squad.

In both losses, Madrid were sluggish and disorganized in defense, leaving opponents time and space to successfully launch counterattacks. Barcelona’s attack of Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho and the young legs of Ansu Fati, Francisco Trincao and Ousmane Dembele will have taken notice.

Madrid were stunned 1-0 last Saturday by a Cadiz packed with several players who spent their careers in the second division until last month. During that loss, coach Zinedine Zidane said he would not have been surprised if Madrid had gone into halftime down by two or three goals.

That is exactly what happened on Wednesday when Shakhtar won 3-2 in their Champions League opener after a Madrid backline fell apart without Sergio Ramos, who was resting after hurting his left knee against Cadiz.

Madrid hope  to have their  captain back against Barcelona.

Zidane has tried to absorb the blame for the embarrassing defeats.

“I’m responsible. As the first half was negative for my side, it means I did something wrong,” Zidane said after the loss to Shakhtar.

“I feel for the players because they have helped me win a lot of things. It was a bad game and they don’t deserve it. But that’s football. You have to keep going and think that if today is gray, tomorrow will be sunny.”

But his squad is under pressure, both veterans and newcomers.

Against Shakhtar, Raphael Varane should have been its defensive leader with Ramos out. But Varane showed the same fragile defending that was behind his two errors that led to goals in Madrid’s exit to Manchester City in the Champions League in August.

Caught behind a Shakhtar player, Varane’s lunge to poke away the ball put it into his own net, making it 2-0.

Marcelo and Eder Militao were unable to stop goals from Tetê in the 29th minute and Manor Solomon in the 42nd.

Down 3-0 at halftime, Luka Modric and Vinícius Júnior pulled two goals back, but with half an hour remaining the team could not culminate the comeback.

“When we don’t play well under pressure, everyone suffers. We found it difficult at the back,” Varane said. “It’s a difficult time for the team, but we’ve got a very important game (Barcelona) and we’re focused on winning.”


Liverpool frustrated by VAR as Brighton snatch late equalizer

Updated 29 November 2020

Liverpool frustrated by VAR as Brighton snatch late equalizer

  • Jurgen Klopp's side suffer late blow as Pascal Gross coolly converts late penalty

BRIGHTON: Jurgen Klopp launched into a furious tirade about Liverpool’s fixture schedule after Pascal Gross’s controversial late penalty rescued a dramatic 1-1 draw for Brighton at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.

Klopp’s side took the lead through Diogo Jota’s second half strike after Brighton’s Neal Maupay had missed a penalty in the first half.

But Liverpool were stunned in stoppage time when Andrew Robertson’s challenge on Danny Welbeck was ruled a penalty after Stuart Attwell used VAR to overturn his initial decision.

Gross converted from the spot, leaving Klopp sarcastically applauding the officials at the end of a disappointing week for Liverpool after their shock Champions League defeat at home to Atalanta.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson claimed Welbeck told him it was not a penalty, but Klopp would not take the bait when asked if he disagreed with the decision.

“You try to create again, on my cost, a headline, because that’s how it is. If I say now it was not ... the ref whistled it,” Klopp said in a fractious exchange with a BT Sport interviewer.

“Don’t look like this, you try, always, all the time. Today I say it was a penalty, you are not happy with that answer, so keep your answers to yourself.”

Liverpool went back to the top of the table as a result of their draw, but the champions are just one point ahead of previous leaders Tottenham.

Tottenham would regain pole position if they avoid defeat at Chelsea on Sunday, while the Blues will go top if they win the London derby.

It was one of those days for Liverpool, who also saw goals correctly disallowed by VAR for offside against Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

There was more bad news for injury-ravaged Liverpool as James Milner was forced off in the second half.

Milner’s injury provoked Klopp’s rant during his post-match interview as he repeated his recent complaints about Liverpool featuring in the early Saturday match after playing in the Champions League just three days earlier.

Asked if Milner had a hamstring problem, Klopp took aim at television schedulers and Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder, who has criticized his counterpart over his desire to allow five substitutions instead of the current three.

“Yeah, congratulations. You work for them yeah? Hamstring, surprise, and Brighton had injuries but ask Chris Wilder how we can avoid that,” Klopp said.

“I don’t know how often I have to say it, you picked the 12:30, not you personally, but you did it, us on 12:30, between now and December and New Year, one more Wednesday.

“I’ve not had a go at the broadcaster, I just say how it is. After Wednesday, Saturday 12:30 is really dangerous for the players.

“When we had a talk between managers, a week ago, it was 55, if not 60 (percent) for five subs. Since then nothing happened.

“Chris Wilder or whoever says constantly that I am selfish. I think all the things that shows is that he’s selfish.

“I was in a similar situation when I worked at Mainz and it was all about staying in the league, but they (Sheffield United) have three subs and one point if I am right.”

It was a tough day for Klopp, who saw Aaron Connolly tripped by Neco Williams in the 20th minute.

Maupay stepped up to take the spot kick, but his side-foot effort went wide despite Alisson Becker diving the wrong way.

In the 60th minute, Robertson found Salah and his pass teed up Jota to drill into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.

Liverpool were seconds away from three points when Robertson went to clear in his own area as Welbeck closed in.

Robertson’s foot made contact with Welbeck, but there were few appeals from Brighton before Attwell awarded a contentious penalty after consulting the pitchside monitor.

With Maupay off the pitch, Gross took this one and fired down the middle to salvage an unexpected point.