Real Madrid 2019-20Getty

Real Madrid's season in danger of falling apart just before Champions League and Clasico

Out of nowhere, problems are appearing at Real Madrid at a worrying speed.

For months things had been rosy. Zinedine Zidane’s side found the form and stability they desperately lacked last season, moving top of La Liga, becoming real contenders for the first time since they won the double in 2017.

Karim Benzema was one of the world’s most lethal strikers, Eden Hazard was making his comeback from injury, and the defence was watertight, marshalled brilliantly by Thibaut Courtois.

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Meanwhile, rivals Barcelona were struggling, Ernesto Valverde angering supporters with his tactics, Luis Suarez out injured and the team’s football was stale. But over the past week things have quickly changed; storm clouds are now rolling in over Madrid.

Ahead of the biggest week of their season, with both the Champions League last-16 first leg against Manchester City and the Santiago Bernabeu Clasico, they dropped two points against Celta Vigo and then lost to Levante.

Madrid fell 1-0 at the Ciutat de Valencia, following up last week’s 2-2 draw at home against Celta, leaving Barcelona back top of the table by two points.

This was only their second loss of the season, after the 1-0 defeat by Mallorca in October which proved the catalyst for their significant improvement. Barcelona beat Getafe last weekend and then thrashed Eibar 5-0 on Saturday, to reclaim the lead.

Adding insult to injury, Barcelona’s rout saw the Catalans move on to an all-time total of 6,151 league goals. One more than Real Madrid, on 6,150. The Catalans are ahead of their arch-rivals for the first time ever.

Hazard, who impressed on his comeback against Celta, missed a one-on-one which he should have buried and then limped off injured in the second half, nursing a new ankle problem, having just recovered from a bad injury in that area which kept him out for almost three months. Having missed much of the season already, this fresh blow for the Belgian is a bitter one for Madrid’s morale.

“Hazard took a blow on the ankle he had the injury,” confirmed a worried Zidane to Movistar afterwards. “We’ll have to do tests but it looks bad.”

Eden Hazard Real Madrid 2019-20Getty

To make matters worse, striker Benzema is out of form. In 2019 he was the team’s best player by a distance but over the last 12 games he has managed just two goals. Madrid themselves are averaging less than two goals a game - 1.84.

The Frenchman scored a vital goal against Atletico Madrid at the start of February, but his only other strike since December 15 came in the Copa del Rey against Zaragoza. This is an awful time for him to drop out of form.

Benzema wasted two good chances in the second half here, showing a lack of confidence when he ran in on goal but failed to pull the trigger and then he couldn’t stab home from close range in the final stages.

Madrid have been dominant thanks to their superb defensive record this season but Courtois erred for Jose Luis Morales’s goal, appearing not to fling himself at the winger’s near-post effort. The man known as the ‘Comandante’ on Spain’s east coast lashed home on the half-volley superbly after 79 minutes to earn Levante the points.

Madrid were already fretting by that point, hoping captain Sergio Ramos could come up with his usual saviour act, or defensive midfielder Casemiro would continue his rich goalscoring form.

With Manchester City impressing against Leicester , Pep Guardiola’s visit to the Spanish capital on Tuesday promises big trouble.