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Blame CR7? Why Real Madrid players withering away from Ronaldo's shadow

COMMENT: Give it to Luka Modric for telling it straight. No VAR excuse. No blaming systems. Fatigue. Whatever. Real Madrid are in crisis. And it's the players at fault.

For coach Santiago Solari it was the finishing. Skipper Sergio Ramos blamed the "scandalous" officiating. And director Emilio Butragueno, well, he ignored the result and declared the home players "stupendous".

But defeat to Real Sociedad leaves Madrid in fifth place and ten points off LaLiga leaders Barcelona. Among those ahead of them little Alaves.

As Angel Torres, the Getafe president, said on Sunday: "Something is wrong over there. The LaLiga is deteriorating with the gap Barcelona is creating. I saw today's game and saw (Real Madrid) players giving up."

Which is what Modric hit upon in the aftermath of the 2-0 reverse. This isn't the time for excuses

"We need to be more focused and stop having a s*** like that every game," snapped the Ballon d'Or. "We have to sit down, talk, see what our problem is, it's not normal, it does not happen once, it happens many times, we have to find solutions..."

A third coach in just over six months? That's what the players now have both Solari and Real president Florentino Perez contemplating. The Madrid press already smell blood. The Argentine having to bat away questions about his future on Sunday evening... even whether he deserves the job. These post-match pressers are becoming more and more brutal.

But inside the boardroom, Solari still enjoys support. And most importantly he can count on Florentino. The general consensus is no matter what happens at home, as long as Real are alive in the Champions League, Solari's job is safe. As Torres says, "The money is there from the three Champions Leagues. But Florentino must know Madrid cannot be so long without winning the LaLiga".

However, Florentino's commitment does actually run deeper than simply Europe. This column has been told the president has appreciated Solari, in contrast to the dithering of predecessor Julen Lopetegui, making clear Thibaut Courtois was the club's No1. Just as he is pleased with the hardline the Argentine has taken with Isco and his backing of the young players the president has personally brought to the club like Vinicius Junior, Dani Ceballos and Fede Valverde.

So Solari, in the eyes of Florentino, has racked up some credit. And the feeling inside the dressing room is similar. None of the players have turned on the mister. Even Isco has kept it zipped - which is some development given the leaking from 'confidants' under both Lopetegui and Zinedine Zidane.

As Modric says: "The coach is doing a great job, but he can't score goals or stop their attacks ... Solari has our confidence and we cannot use him as an excuse, nor blame him."

So then who is to "blame"? Cristano Ronaldo? That's easy. Too easy. But sometimes the clearest answers are just that. It's been the mantra since the start of the season. Take 40-odd goals a campaign out of your team and you're always going to struggle.

But Ronaldo's absence runs deeper than simply his name on goalsheet after goalsheet. Since his departure to Juventus, these Real players... they've diminished. Shrunk. They're the European champions. But there's no intimidation. No Bernabeu fear factor. How could there be? La Real. CSKA Moscow. Levante. They've all hammered Real in front of their home fans.

Pushed out from under Ronaldo's shadow, those players who had assured Florentino they just needed a chance, they've withered in the spotlight. Isco. Marco Asensio. Karim Benzema. They've all fallen short. Ceballos. Casemiro. The same. The clique that would have their go-betweens moan to Florentino about Zidane turning a blind eye to Ronaldo's form slumps have been found out.

Ronaldo all but confirmed such talk in that infamous 'family' rant earlier this season: "In other places some feel bigger than the rest, but here (Juventus) they are all on the same level, they are humble and they want to win. If (Paulo) Dybala or (Mario) Mandzukic don't score, they are still happy and they smile. It's really nice and I can see the difference."

Sans Ronaldo and the spotlight shining. The focus on them and only them. With CR7 no longer around to draw flak. To absorb the hits whenever a wrong result was suffered. This lot are failing to cope.

Isco. Asensio. Gareth Bale. They're as good as anything in Europe. Parachute them into any team and they're going to make an impact. But the demands - the standards - of Real Madrid are unique. Talent is not enough.

Losing the goals guarantee of Ronaldo has hurt this season. No doubt. But it is the media vacuum he left - that must be filled - which has really exposed this locker room.

As Modric says: "There are reasons why we are poor and we have to see what they are, we have to assume more responsibility."

Question is: how many of these Real Madrid players have the bottle to do so...?

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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