The first match of Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League of this season was at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium against Shakhtar Donetsk, who surfaced a team without 10 of their first-team players who were ruled out due to COVID-19. It seemed to be set up for a straightforward Madrid win, with Shakhtar clear underdogs even before losing half their squad to COVID-19 in a situation coach Luis Castro described as “a nightmare.”

But it was Real Madrid who experienced an absolute nightmare in the first half. They were completely outthought and outfought for 45 minutes by the Champions of Ukraine. Rocketing strikes from the inspiring 20-year-old Brazilian Mateus Tete and Israel’s Manor Solomon sandwiched a Raphael Varane’s own goal to secure a three-goal half-time lead.

Real Madrid disaster-class

The absence of Sergio Ramos came as an excuse, but if you are the champions of La Liga and dream big then you need to rely on the players you have. But, in turn, the absence of Ramos was felt every second as Raphael Varane and Eder Militao put up a disastrous display as a center-back.

Real defenders just could not cope up with the pace and intensity of the Brazilian Tete, who moved like an electric train and the rest, followed him to crush the Madrid defence.

The understanding between Militao and Raphael Varane was non-existent. The coverage from Marcelo and Mendy on the flanks was absent. Not long before Shakhtar’s first goal, Mendy was in a central attacking midfield role while Asensio was the team’s right-back. On the goal itself, Militao ended up over on the right-hand side, and the ball ended up at Tete’s feet on the left.

On Shakhtar’s second goal,  Courtois spilled Tete’s shot at the feet of Dentinho, prompting Varane into a desperate lunge that succeeded only in turning the ball past his own goalkeeper, and the winger’s cute back-heel then teed up Solomon to make it three.

Throughout the first half, the press was disjointed, and the defensive loopholes were exposed badly.

Offensively, there were no clear solutions.

At the back – Dodo, Bondar, Kocholava, Korniienko, and with Maycon in front as a pure defensive midfielder put up a solid display and blocked whatever Real Madrid threw at them. The Real Madrid flank decided to rely on crosses to exploit the aerial route because it was tough to break the well-drilled backline of Shakhtar.

Luka Jovic – who started as the hit-man of Los Blancos – was lost in the forest of Ukraine and thus Zidane. Rodrygo Goes was struggling big time and Zidane decided to change things in the second half.

Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior were brought on.

Real Madrid switched to the fourth gear – offensively they looked braver than ever and merciless.

Luka Modric dished out a marvelous strike from the distance to reduce the deficit and then the grand entrance of Vinicius was evident when he quickly made it 3-2. Fede Valverde’s stoppage-time magical strike was ruled out by VAR, which would have been a consolation; but Shakhtar’s spirited display deserved to be rewarded.

Real Madrid were enjoying a great run at their temporary home that is the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano. They had a 100% record there until their 1-0 defeat to Cadiz.

Now with a shock defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk, they have lost their second game at the venue.

On top of that, they have already conceded twice the amount of goals this season than they shipped in the six games at the venue last season.

What should Real Madrid do?

Zidane emphasizes on solidity and compactness. But in recent times, his defence seems to lack coordination. Zidane loves to experiment with his players and the presence of Mendy as a right-back was one of his experiments even though he was forced to do such because of the injury of Dani Carvajal.

At times, left-backs playing on the right work wonders, but it is not fruitful always. Mendy looked uncomfortable and failed to link-up with players upfront.

Meanwhile, Marcelo was punished mercilessly by his fellow countrymen Tete.

Zidane might try with a 3-man backline – Ramos, Varane, and Militao with Casemiro playing as a defensive midfielder, whose defensive qualities are more than capable of shielding the back.

Marcelo as a wing-back on the left flank could really benefit from the transition, while he could be partnered up with either Asensio or Rodrygo on the right.

Then, whether Luka Jovic deserves a place in the Real Madrid squad or not should be given a hard thought.

Jovic has been with Real Madrid for more than a year now and is yet to settle properly at the club. He is never in sync with his attacking partners and even when opportunities are created for him in the box, he is too slow to react. He had as many touches as goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – who had been outstanding again to keep Real Madrid alive in the game.

He had a golden opportunity to pull Madrid level just a couple of minutes after Tete’s goal. Marcelo found him unmarked in the box with a peach of a cross, only for him to mistime the header.

With the El Clasico knocking at the doors, Zidane needs to fix things quickly.

And, we know, Zidane can fix the problems.