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Real Madrid pay World Cup price as LaLiga campaign stutters

Real Madrid’s form has dipped in recent weeks - and it’s by no means chance that Los Blancos’ slump has coincided with the run-up to Qatar 2022.

Madrid footballers lament one of Rayo's goals.

Real Madrid have allowed the upcoming World Cup to become a distraction - and have paid the price in LaLiga.

After leapfrogging Barcelona with their Clásico win in mid-October, Madrid have since handed the title initiative back to their arch rivals by drawing against Girona and losing to Rayo Vallecano. In between those two games, the Champions League brought a defeat to RB Leipzig and a stroll against a poor Celtic side, but Madrid were already through to the last 16 by that point. It’s on the domestic front that their slump has really hurt them.

Whether certain or in contention to go to Qatar, Madrid players with one eye on the tournament have either disappeared from the map altogether, with injury the official reason for their absence (Benzema); or missed games with the most minor of niggles (Tchouaméni, Rüdiger...); or simply been guilty of taking their intensity down a notch (Vinícius, Carvajal...).

One stat tells you all you need to know about the 3-2 reverse at Vallecas: Rayo goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski didn’t make a single save. Madrid’s goals - one of which was a penalty converted by Luka Modric - were the only two shots on target that the visitors managed. Their shooting figures have never been as bad as that this term.

Thibaut Courtois

Courtois prevented Rayo from scoring a hatful on Monday, but the Belgian hasn’t been at his sparkling best in a start to the season that has seen him concede 11 goals in nine LaLiga games. His save percentage is 66.7%, noticeably lower than the 75-plus he managed in the last three campaigns. That said, the defence in front of him isn’t helping: Courtois is facing more shots on target per game than in any of the past three league seasons.

Dani Carvajal

Carvajal is a prime example of players’ fear of getting injured right before the World Cup. On the hour mark at Vallecas, the right-back felt pain in his groin and dropped to the turf, fearing the worst. He was able to continue, but soon after committed the handball that gave Rayo their match-winning penalty.

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Carvajal.Soccrates ImagesGetty

Antonio Rüdiger

Officially, Rüdiger has a hip injury that led to his absence against Rayo and will also see him miss Thursday’s clash with Cádiz.

Éder Militao

Named in the Brazil World Cup squad, Militao scored against Rayo but the drop-off in his defensive intensity is palpable. That said, he has remained virtually ever-present: he has only sat out one game since mid-September.

Ferland Mendy

Mendy was left chasing shadows at Vallecas - Isi Palazón’s shadow, to be precise - and hasn’t been able to persuade France boss Didier Deschamps that Les Bleus need him in Qatar. On Wednesday, the defender was left out of the tournament holders’ squad for Qatar 2022.

Aurélien Tchouaméni

Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti says Tchouaméni’s dip in form is down to tiredness, but that surely can’t be a legitimate excuse. Including France games, Tchouaméni has played 1,312 minutes this season; at this stage of the 2021/22 campaign, he had many more minutes under his belt: 1,928. Ancelotti says the Frenchman’s a different player when he has Toni Kroos by his side.

Fede Valverde

Valverde put in a poor display against Rayo; indeed, his now viral shot onto the balcony of a neighbouring flat was his most notable moment. It’s hard to criticise the Uruguayan, though: starting with the Clásico, he has scored four times for Madrid in the last six games.

Luka Modric

Modric was sloppy against Rayo, but his penalty made it 1-1 and he never hides. He was only kept back on 25 October in Leipzig, although the reason given was the “muscular fatigue” that has become something of a contentious phrase as the World Cup has drawn nearer.

Eduardo Camavinga

Camavinga has been included in the France squad, but was by no means certain of his spot - so he’s a player that hasn’t been able to afford to ease up. Deschamps wasn’t happy with his contribution in the September international break. With Madrid, it’s been a mix of good (his first half against Girona) and bad (his display against RB Leipzig). And when he and Tchouaméni have started, they’ve shown a distinct lack of chemistry…

Vinícius Júnior

Vinícius has long known he’d be going to the World Cup, and his downward curve in LaLiga has been very noticeable. Five goals in his first seven games… and just one in the following six (since 8 October). Against Rayo, he gave a hugely distracted performance.

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Rodrygo Goes

Rodrygo’s foot has remained on the accelerator, partly because he wasn’t a cert for Tite’s Brazil squad. But in Vallecas, his eye seemed strangely off the ball. It’s a black mark on what has otherwise been a very good campaign for him: he’s scored seven goals and supplied five assists. He’s on the plane to Qatar.

Marco Asensio

One of the few exceptions to Madrid’s overall dip in form. With his contract renewal up in the air, he has come to the fore, scoring against Elche and Celtic and setting up goals against Leipzig and Rayo. He also won Madrid’s penalty on Monday.

Eden Hazard

There’s been no sign of Hazard, and there isn’t expected to be any. The home win over Celtic would have been a prime opportunity for the Belgian to start, but he made himself unavailable due to a niggle. He’s always viewed the World Cup as an escape valve.

Karim Benzema

Although Ancelotti backed him publicly on Wednesday (“Karim’s as disappointed as anyone, because he’ll go into the World Cup without game time under his belt”), the Benzema situation is really quite odd. The upshot? He has missed four straight LaLiga games, and Madrid dropped points in two of them...


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