Real Madrid's early La Liga struggles have left the team in a position not typically reserved for defending champs: It needs a win.
Los Blancos will enter Sunday's El Clasico against Barcelona trailing their bitter rivals by a full eight points and in sixth place.
Obviously, there is still plenty of time for them to come back and erase their deficit win or lose in this match, but psychologically? Not so much.
Consider the psychological pratfalls of a loss. It would put Madrid 11 points behind a Barcelona that it will be insanely difficult to chase down, making the rest of the campaign appear like a hopeless grind.
Barca stormed out of the gates with a win each of its first six matches. It has done so in convincing fashion by outscoring its opponents, 17-5.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid has had those performances thrown in its face during a listless to start the La Liga campaign.
Real Madrid started the year with a bad draw at home against Valencia, and continued as Jose Mourinho watched his team go just 1-2-1 in their first four league matches. The team has since picked up the pace.
Since its league loss to Sevilla on September 15, Madrid has won four straight matches, including two La Liga affairs. Madrid has been much improved on these efforts, and is building up some momentum in the process.
All eyes of the football world will be on this match, but it is not the public that Madrid needs to make this statement to; It needs to make it to itself.
A slow start can be written off easily enough, but this match takes the meaning beyond that. As they always do in this bitter rivalry, Cristiano Ronaldo and company will leave nothing in the tank. In other words, there are no excuses.
If Real Madrid is outplayed on Sunday, it will be the kind of loss that will chip away at its collective confidence and severely hamper the team's chances at repeating.
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