Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti admitted he is at a loss to explain the European champions dramatic slump in form as they sneaked into the quarter-finals of the Champions League despite losing 4-3 to Schalke.
A 2-0 first leg advantage was just enough to carry Los Blancos into the last eight for a fifth consecutive season on a night when Cristiano Ronaldo’s achievement in becoming the all-time leading scorer in European competitions was overshadowed.
Ronaldo twice equalised in the first-half to surpass Real legend Raul with 78 goals in European competitions after Christian Fuchs and Klass-Jan Huntelaar had given Schalke the lead.
Karim Benzema then put Madrid in front on the night before Leroy Sane and a stunning strike from Huntelaar gave Schalke a deserved victory.
Ancelotti’s men swept all before them in a 22-game winning run to end 2014 with a club record four-trophy haul for the calendar year after winning the Club World Cup.
AFP / Dani Pozo
Real Madrid’s goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas saves a shot during the round of 16 second leg UEFA Champions League match against Shalke at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on March 10, 2015
However, since the turn of the year they have lost five times in 15 games to surrender their La Liga lead to Barcelona and were on the verge of suffering one of the biggest shocks in Champions League history.
“We are playing very badly. It is quite incomprehensible after what we did until December,” said Ancelotti.
“It is clear I feel very sorry because everyone has seen we played very badly. This is not good for the image of the club.
“It is normal that the players lack confidence. I think we have dipped a bit physically too. We had problems in every aspect of the game: offensive, defensive, desire, fight and concentration.”
Ancelotti was even asked whether he fears the sack in the coming days with a crucial El Clasico clash against Barcelona in the La Liga title race to come on March 22.
The Italian insisted he still has faith in the players that carried the club to their 10th European Cup win just 10 months ago.
– ‘Rock bottom’ –
“I don’t think about this (being sacked). I continue doing my job, but I need to do it better. This is the responsiblity of the coach to put out a team that can play better than they did tonight.
AFP / Gerard Julien
Schalke’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on March 10, 2015
“I continue having total confidence in this squad because I know what they can do. We are not doing it at the moment and we need to work harder, train harder, do everything better.”
Madrid captain Iker Casillas said the Spanish giants had hit “rock bottom” after a three-game winless streak.
“It is clear we have hit rock bottom in a spectacular way, but the positive thing is that a week on Friday we will be in the draw and we can forget the past 10 days,” said the Spanish captain
Ancelotti insisted that things can turn around for the better just as quickly as they have deteriorated, especially with key players such as Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric returning from injury.
Modric made his return after four months out for the final half an hour, while Ramos is expected to make an appearance when Levante visit the Bernabeu on Sunday.
“Things change quickly in football as we have seen. No one in December would imagine what we are going through now,” said Ancelotti.
“The presence of Modric gives us more control and more possession in midfield.
“We can’t ask too much of him because he was out for four months. I think he did well for 30 minutes.
“He is going to help us in the next games, as will Sergio Ramos with his qualities and character.”