Real Madrid were unable to turn around a three-goal half-time deficit as they were beaten 3-2 by Shakhtar Donetsk in their Champions League Group B opener to suffer a second defeat in a row ahead of El Clasico.
An abject first-half display saw Thibaut Courtois deny Marlos in a one-on-one before Mateus Tete put the Ukrainian side ahead with half an hour gone. The visitors added a second, Raphael Varane turning the ball into his own net, and Manor Solomon grabbed a third following more hapless Madrid defending before the break.
Luka Modric scored a long-range screamer after half-time, before Tete missed a good chance to make it 4-1. Substitute Vinicius Junior scored within seconds of coming on to ensure a tense finish, and Federico Valverde had an added-time equaliser ruled out for offside.
For a few, brief minutes at the start of this match, Madrid looked keen to make up for their La Liga loss to Cadiz at the weekend. They pressed Shakhtar high up the pitch, denying the visitors time on the ball. That very early positive work was entirely undone by the defensive horror show that followed.
The second-half response was encouraging, too, with veterans Modric and subs Karim Benzema and Vinicius leading the way, but the team had simply left themselves too much to do.
Where to begin? With Sergio Ramos missing, Madrid’s defence looked dangerously vulnerable, conceding three first-half goals at home in a Champions League match for the first time in 20 years. Eder Militao — who has never looked close to justifying the €50 million paid for him in 2019 — is a deeply unconvincing replacement. Madrid will be desperately hoping Ramos recovers from his knee problem in time for Saturday’s Clasico.
The midfield and attack were little better. Real Madrid’s European home record in recent seasons is very poor — with defeats to CSKA Moscow, Ajax, Manchester City and now Shakhtar in the last two years — and that’s something that will have to change to have any chance of following the three-peat of 2016, 2017 and 2018 with another Champions League trophy.
Manager rating (out of 10)
4 — Zinedine Zidane went into this game under significant pressure after the La Liga defeat to Cadiz. He made seven changes, with only Courtois, Varane, Marcelo and Modric surviving. The decision to leave out the influential Toni Kroos and Benzema — with Ramos already absent — was bold, verging on foolish.
Zidane resisted the temptation to repeat his quadruple half-time substitution from the weekend, bringing on only Benzema, followed by Vinicius and Kroos later, but the team couldn’t complete a comeback.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 — Real Madrid’s most consistent performer this season. Saved well from Marlos in the first half and made a big stop to deny Tete in the second.
DF Raphael Varane, 4 — Followed a dreadful Champions League performance away at Manchester City in August with an own goal here. In the second half he was beaten by Tete, who fortunately spurned the opportunity to score a fourth, far too easily.
DF Eder Militao, 3 — Incapable of filling in for the injured Ramos. Caught badly out of position in the first half to allow Marlos a free run at goal and caught out again by Tete later on. Booked for a wild challenge in the last few minutes.
DF Marcelo, 5 — Captained the team, and should have led by example, but was guilty of some awful half-hearted defending for Shakhtar’s third goal.
MF Casemiro, 6 — Began the game as the most vocal presence on the pitch, urging his teammates to press high, even forcing keeper Anatolii Trubin to pass straight out of play himself. Dropped off after that with one wild misplaced long ball summing up Madrid’s first half.
MF Federico Valverde, 6 — Feels like a necessary selection when the team is struggling, even if he wasn’t at his best here. Offers endless reserves of energy and the right attitude. Unlucky not to score a late equaliser.
MF Luka Modric, 7 — Fell below his usual standards in the first half, but improved as the team did. Scored with a venomous, second-half shot from distance after seeing another effort saved. Taken off with El Clasico in mind.
FW Marco Asensio, 6 — Started on the right but often moved inside when the team attacked. Needs to finally deliver on his promise this season, as he too often lets games pass him by.
FW Rodrygo, 5 — Has impressed in this competition before, scoring a hat trick against Galatasaray a year ago, but disappointed here. Prefers the right wing but started on the left. Subbed off at half-time.
FW Luka Jovic, 4 — An anonymous performance in just his second Champions League start for the club. A tame first-half header was his only contribution of note. His withdrawal when Madrid desperately needed to score said it all.
FW Karim Benzema, 7 — Came on at half-time, replacing Rodrygo and the team improved instantly. Zidane loves to rotate, but the French striker should play every game his fitness allows.
FW Vinicius Junior, 8 — Zidane’s second change, for Jovic. Made an instant impact, scoring within seconds, and looking lively after that. Should have started.
MF Toni Kroos, N/R — Replaced Modric to offer fresh legs as the team looked for an equaliser.