Real Madrid's third league defeat of the season has left them with a mountain to climb in La Liga, writes Ben Lyttleton.
"At Madrid the only thing that counts is working and looking ahead. There is no past. There's almost no present," wrote Tomas Roncero in AS newspaper
Perhaps La Liga will be a two-horse after all, with Barcelona and a Madrid side stretching ahead of the pack. But with only 13 games gone, it's not the Madrid side many expected to be challenging: after this weekend's results, Barcelona are 11 points clear of Real Madrid and only three ahead of Atletico Madrid.
Barcelona beat Levante 4-0, Atletico destroyed Sevilla by the same scoreline (although Sevilla did end up playing with nine men) but the most significant result of the weekend came on Saturday night, as Real Madrid lost 1-0 at Real Betis. It was Madrid's third league defeat of the season, only the second time in 21 games they have failed to score this season (the other was also in Sevilla, a 1-0 loss to Sevilla) and leaves them eight points worse off than they were at this stage last season - by way of comparison, Barcelona are nine points better. Mourinho's Madrid dropped 14 points as the dominated La Liga last season: this year they have already dropped 13.
So what's to blame for the Madrid malaise? As always, most of the focus is centred on Jose Mourinho, whose latest battle with his board has been to try and get a senior figure to help him. He wanted Fernando Hierro, the former Madrid defender who earlier this year left his post at Malaga, but president Florentino Perez has rejected the request. "Mourinho wants someone like Hierro in his life so he doesn't get worn out in battles with the football institutions," wrote Tomas Roncero in AS. "But he's looking for answers in the wrong places. At Madrid the only thing that counts is working and looking ahead. There is no past. There's almost no present."
Mourinho's distraction with this, and other battles, has not helped Madrid's season. He has crticised the players' attitudes and the fixture list, which he claims favours Barcelona (and once again, he gets no support in his comments from the top level at the club). For all the talk of the Portuguese's second season always being his best, there is now a theory in Spain that his third might be the worst. He did not complain about the defeat to Betis, even though Karim Benzema had a goal wrongly disallowed.
There's also the Cristiano Ronaldo factor: three games without a goal, incredibly, is one short of his longest drought in Madrid shirt, from February 2011. He's only scored once in his last six: it's not a question of Madrid being super-dependent on Ronaldo (they won five of those games) but perhaps the star player is also distracted, by his quest for the Ballon D'Or trophy.
Could it be the only title he might win this season? La Liga now looks beyond Madrid, though we will know more about Atletico's potential to last the course in the next few weeks: they play their city rivals next weekend and in three weeks face Barcelona, who are now [1.16] favourites for the title. Atletico are [18.5] and Real Madrid [10.0].
League failure will focus Mourinho's attention on the Champions League, where his two seasons at the club have both ended in the semi-finals. Madrid will finish second behind Dortmund in Group D which could ensure them a tougher tie in the Round of 16: Porto, Bayern Munich and Manchester United are possible opponents. Despite that, Madrid are second-favourites to win the Champions League, at [4.7], with Barcelona [3.65].
Whatever happens this season, it's hard to escape the feeling that the Mourinho project is entering its end-game. The Portuguese has never spent more than three-and-a-bit seasons anywhere in his career. This looks like being his third and final year in the Spanish capital, which raises a few more interesting question: will he be in England next season; and will he renew a rivalry with Pep Guardiola, who might also end up in the Premier League?