Real Madrid went through the motions on Tuesday against Viktoria Plzen and a semi-dreary, not-quite-routine win against the Czech champions did nothing to lift the gloom that has descended on the club.
Champions League winners in each of the last three seasons and in four of the last five, Madrid face Barcelona this weekend without Cristiano Ronaldo - a man who scored 311 goals in 292 league appearances.
Permanently beleaguered Julen Lopetegui will take charge of Real in the Clasico but a second sacking in under 150 days seems almost inevitable, be it this week or next.
And though there were voices in the summer who felt Real had ended their association with their 33-year-old record goalscorer at the right moment, the first two months of the new season suggest that it is the club who are missing the man, rather than the reverse.
A glance at Madrid's Expected Goals output in the past three seasons bears this out, with a decline from 2.4 per match two seasons ago to 2.3 in Ronaldo’s final season, and a relatively big drop to 1.9 so far in 2018-19.
And not only are Real creating lower quality chances on average than in previous seasons, but they are failing to take even the good ones, with their actual total of 13 so far - less than both Bournemouth and Watford have scored in the Premier League - around four fewer than you’d expect.
Real Madrid in La Liga
|Season||Goals||Expected Goals||Games Played||xG/game|
Whether this slowdown is a systemic issue with the reeling Lopetegui, a waning team shorn of their goalscoring icon, or a combination of both, there are more than a few telling pieces of information.
Firstly, Real are averaging 6.3 shots on target per game, the first time they’ve dipped under seven a match since 2008-09, which was the club’s final season before Ronaldo was signed from Manchester United.
Secondly, Gareth Bale, whose decisive two strikes as a substitute in the 2018 Champions League final must have gone some way to convince internal doubters that the moment to sell Ronaldo had arrived, has failed to weigh in with enough goals.
The Welshman scored in his first three league appearances of the season but his other five outings have been goalless and Real have picked up just two points from them.
Cristiano Ronaldo xG Map Serie A First Nine Games (2018-19)
Gareth Bale xG Map La Liga First Nine Games (2018-19)
The xG maps of Bale and Ronaldo above show a pair of players with three and five league goals respectively, but a world of difference in terms of productivity and involvement.
So as Barcelona watch their eternal rivals trot out at the Nou Camp on Sunday, Real's current woes should serve as a warning of what can happen when a transition stalls.
Lionel Messi will shed his sling and return to star in future Clasicos but Madrid's break with Ronaldo is permanent, and it shows.