The big players show up in the big games and, for the first time since he left for Juventus, Real Madrid missed Cristiano Ronaldo.
In a goalless draw at home against city rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday, the Blancos looked blunt, failing to score for the second game running.
Julen Lopetegui’s side, humiliated 3-0 by Sevilla on Wednesday, were aiming to bounce back strongly against Atletico, but with no cutting edge they ended up playing their part in a dour draw.
In the absence of Real’s all-time top goalscorer, Gareth Bale was the man supposed to ascend to the throne. Unfortunately and predictably, the Welshman suffered a thigh injury and had to be replaced at half-time.
Bale’s early performances this season showed plenty of promise, with three goals under his belt already. He had been their only attacking outlet against Sevilla, hitting the post at one point, while he sent an effort inches wide in the first half against Atletico.
However, he did not reappear for the second half, with young midfielder Dani Ceballos stepping into his shoes, and the news that all Madrid fans were dreading emerged soon after.
With Isco sidelined for potentially a month after having his appendix removed, Madrid were already short on creativity. Bale's latest injury-enforced absence thus comes as a devastating blow.
Ceballos, in fairness to him, impressed during his second-half display, even going as far as to take control of the game out of the hands of Atletico and give Real greater influence in the middle of the park, but it was not enough to break the deadlock.
Marco Asensio, the direct beneficiary of Ronaldo’s summer departure, had a golden chance but could not beat the enormous Jan Oblak when presented with a one-on-one with the Slovenian goalkeeper.
At the other end, Thibaut Courtois impressed with saves from Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa. In truth, the Belgian goalkeeper was the only thing between Madrid and another painful defeat.
What was particularly painful from a Real perspective was the fact taht Lopetegui’s side missed the chance to capitalise on Barcelona’s failures for a second game in a row, leaving their stuttering Catalan rivals top of the table on goal difference.
Barcelona could only record a 1-1 draw at home against Athletic Bilbao earlier on Saturday but Real could not better that result against Diego Simeone's stubborn side, who remained resolute, despite fading as the match wore on.
Lopetegui tossing Vinicius Junior on for his debut in the final stages just seemed like a desperate, random move. It had no effect, and left the Bernabeu disgruntled.
Vinicius did earn a free-kick and Madrid fans were left chanting for Sergio Ramos to save them with a customary late goal. But when you need your centre-back to dig you out of a hole, something is wrong.
Mariano – also asked for by the fans and the man who inherited Ronaldo’s No.7 shirt – was left on the bench, despite previous impressive cameos, leaving supporters wondering exactly what Lopetegui was doing.
Lucas Vasquez’s introduction from the bench was underwhelming. He is a versatile, reliable player, but not someone you can expect to unlock a match as tight as this.
Ultimately, Real's toothless in front of goal cost them dearly. There is already a real danger of it becoming the recurring theme of the post-Ronaldo era.