Barcelona coach Quique Setien said he wasn’t worried after losing last weekend’s Clasico because there would be many twists and turns left in the title race.
Real Madrid immediately proved him right as they stumbled 2-1 at Real Betis on Sunday, leaving the Catalans two points clear at the top of La Liga, with 11 games to go.
Karim Benzema ended his recent goal drought by converting from the penalty spot but the French forward erred badly for Betis’s late winner as he continued his run of bad form in 2020.
Benzema's dip in form has coincided with his club's. Post-Ronaldo Real don't have many goals in them, so it has fallen on Benzema to carry their attacking threat. He did an admirable job of doing precisely that last year.
However, the goals have dried up since the turn of the year, with just two in his previous 14 outings before the game at the Benito Vilamarin.
Happily, he managed to get on the scoresheet against Betis but, in truth, he struggled again, as did Madrid.
The visitors came into this game on the back of a 2-0 win over Barca and were facing a Betis side that had gone seven games without winning, a dreadful run that had left them sitting just five points clear of the drop zone before kick-off, and with coach Rubi under intense pressure.
However, one thing they can do, one thing they always do, is score at home. Betis hadn't failed to score in their own backyard since October 2018 and their opening goal felt like it was coming long before it arrived.
Indeed, Marc Bartra should have broken the deadlock but the former Barca defender headed over from just a few yards out.
Rubi could not believe it, imitating the defender’s header in astonishment on the sideline, illustrating how Bartra got underneath the ball.
Then, Thibaut Courtois made an excellent save to keep out a stinging drive from Nabil Fekir, which was bound for the top corner.
Eventually, the hosts got the goal they deserved and it arrived in emphatic fashion from the boot of Sidnei. As Betis appealed for a penalty for a foul on the electric Fekir, the ball broke for the defender in the box and he cracked it past Courtois, nearly breaking the net in the process.
Madrid levelled when Sidnei turned villain and took out Marcelo in the box, with Benzema stepping up to take the penalty instead of usual spot-kick executioner Ramos. Perhaps he thought getting a goal would turn his fortunes around.
He was wrong, though. Benzema may have dispatched the penalty neatly, perfectly in the bottom corner of Joel Robles’s net, but he remained on the fringes of the game until he gifted the hosts a winner.
After veteran midfielder Joaquin had missed a sitter for Betis, Benzema sold Ramos short with a pass inside his own half, allowing Andres Guardado to slip in Cristian Tello through on goal.
Unlike Barta, this former Barca man made no mistake, slotting the ball coolly past Courtois.
Benzema was understandably disgusted with his mistake. It was the first time he had made a mistake leading to a goal in 338 Liga appearances for Madrid, and it appeared to drain him of the little confidence he had gained from his goal.
Little stuck to him, even though build-up play is his forte, and he only managed a paltry two shots, the same as substitute Mariano Diaz, who had just 20 minutes on the pitch.
Benzema's bad day at the office represented not only a blow to Madrid's title hopes but also their chances of overturning a 2-1 first-leg deficit in next week's Champions League clash with Manchester City at the Etihad.
After losing at home, they need at least two away goals to go through and there is a huge onus on Benzema to provide them.
When he suffers, Madrid suffer too. And right now, the striker is in agony.