Real Madrid followed its biggest win of the season with its most embarrassing defeat on Wednesday, and the pressure is back on for coach Zinedine Zidane and his players.
After routing Deportivo La Coruna 7-1 to give fans a glimmer of hope after a series of poor results, Madrid crashed out of the Copa del Rey with a shock 2-1 loss to Leganes at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
The elimination in the Copa quarterfinals was the latest setback for Madrid in what has been a disappointing season.
It is fourth in the Spanish league, trailing leader Barcelona by 19 points with a game in hand, and its only realistic chance of a title the rest of the season will be in the Champions League, where it faces Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16.
The Bernabeu crowd loudly jeered Madrid after the loss, with Zidane among those criticizing the most after fielding second-stringers despite the big gap to Barcelona in La Liga.
“We clearly failed,” Zidane said. “And I’m the one responsible for it.”
Playing without Cristiano Ronaldo and other regular starters, Madrid was unable to defend its 1-0 win from the first leg, being eliminated on away goals after a 2-2 draw on aggregate.
“We were not supposed to be eliminated like this after having won the first leg,” said Zidane, calling the defeat the worst moment of his coaching career with Madrid. “I’m upset. It’s a big disappointment. I know it’s a difficult night for the fans.”
It’s the second consecutive year Madrid has been eliminated in the Copa quarterfinals, having lost to Celta Vigo last season.
Leganes, based just south of Madrid, was playing in the last eight of the Copa for the first time in the team’s 89-year history.
“The key was that we believed we could achieve this, even after the loss last week,” Leganes coach Asier Garitano said. “We played a great match and everything went well.”
The visitors provided the bigger threat at the Bernabeu, opening the scoring with Javi Eraso’s curling shot into the top corner of the net. Eraso picked up the loose ball just outside the area after a bad exchange of passes between Madrid defenders Achraf Hakimi and Nacho Fernandez. Hakimi’s pass was too short and Fernandez couldn’t control the ball under pressure from Eraso.
After being jeered at halftime, Madrid came back strongly after the break, with Karim Benzema scoring early with a close-range shot over the goalkeeper after a through ball by Lucas Vazquez. The goal ended Benzema’s six-match scoreless streak that dated back to November.
However, Leganes stunned the home crowd again less than 10 minutes later, when Gabriel Pires scored with a header from a corner taken by Eraso.
Cc The Associated Press