Defeat for the third consecutive year at home in La Liga to Atletico Madrid ended Real Madrid’s realistic title hopes before the end of February.

Barcelona lead Real by nine points and also have a game in hand on Zinedine Zidane’s men, who are now in a battle with Villarreal just to qualify automatically for next season’s Champions League in third.

Here, AFP Sports look at what has gone wrong this season for the richest club in the world.

– No stability

Rafael Benitez lasted barely seven months as coach at the beginning of the season before being ditched for club legend Zidane.

Benitez’s results weren’t to president Florentino Perez’s liking – most notably a 4-0 home hammering at the hands of Barcelona in November.

Yet, the decision to replace Benitez with Zidane — a huge name but with no previous managerial experience at the top level — is symptomatic of Perez’s misguided planning.

When Benitez left Madrid were just two points adrift of Barcelona, by Saturday they were nine.

“Consistency is the key word, to win the league you have to be consistent,” Benitez told BT Sport after his sacking.

“Barcelona has a style of football, a model of football. Real Madrid is changing managers every year so you have to start again and that is the reason Real Madrid has won one league title in the last seven.”

– Ronaldo’s rage hides failings

Cristiano Ronaldo’s rant that Madrid “would be top” if his teammates matched his standards not only spoke of a split dressing room riddled with clashing egos, but was a window into Ronaldo’s anger at a frustrating campaign.

Ronaldo’s numbers of 34 goals in 33 games again look spectacular, but dig deeper and the three-time World Player of the Year has had barely any positive impact on the big games.

The Portuguese hasn’t scored in five La Liga games against top-five opposition. Indeed, just under 40 percent of his La Liga goals have come in two thrashings of Espanyol.

He missed a crucial penalty as Real were held 1-1 at Malaga last weekend and missed his side’s two best chances against Atletico on Saturday.

– Injuries

Ronaldo later rectified his comments, claiming to have only been speaking about his physical shape when suggesting he was superior to his teammates.

He expressed frustration at not having the likes of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Marcelo, all of whom have spent significant time on the sidelines, alongside him at the weekend.

Welsh star Bale has played just 17 of Madrid’s 34 games this season.

Ronaldo also hinted a poor pre-season, more concentrated on money-spinning trips to Australia and China than preparing for the campaign ahead, could be to blame.

– A golden age for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid

Atletico became the first visiting side ever to win three consecutive league games at the Bernabeu. Barcelona remain on course to become the only side ever to win back-to-back trebles of league, Cup and Champions League.

For all Real’s troubles, much of the criticism comes from being judged against two of the best teams in the world going through the greatest period of sustained success in their history with an Argentine at the heart of both.

Barca’s golden run has been spearheaded by five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi. At Atletico it is the coach, Diego Simeone, who has turned a perennially under-achieving club into a European power.

Before Simeone’s arrival, Atletico hadn’t won a derby for 13 years. His transformation of Los Rojiblancos has been so complete that even he admitted it is now “normal” for the red and white half of Madrid to come out on top. – Agence France-Presse

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