CSKA Moscow pulled off yet another major upset of Real Madrid on Wednesday night, beating the defending champions yet again in the UEFA Champions League. The Russians beat Los Blancos 3-0.
A young and heavily rotated Real side fell behind by two goals in the first half, with Fedor Chalov and Georgi Shchennikov punishing defensive errors. Arnor Sigurdsson added to the tally after the break.
Los Blancos had already booked their ticket to the next round but were hoping to avoid another embarrassing defeat.
Blundering Solari Won't Lead Real to Champions League Glory
Santiago Solari's short tenure as Real Madrid manager has been filled with ups and downs, but Wednesday's outing was his worst performance yet and a strong indication the first-time senior coach isn't ready for a job of this magnitude.
He opted to rotate his team having already locked up first place in the group, but still played Marcelo at left-back. Given the Brazilian's lack of form due to an injury-related absence it made sense to give him some minutes, but otherwise, the team was a remarkably young one, per Robbie Dunne of AS:
Marcelo was at fault for the second goal and Los Blancos' young defence struggled, leading to a chorus of jeers at half-time. Solari let those fans get to him, opting to completely overhaul his plans.
Rather than stick to his back-ups and realising this was a meaningless match, he introduced Gareth Bale at half-time and went looking for the win. The injury-prone Bale, the team's top talent in an attack that's already struggling, promptly turned his ankle.
As shared by Dunne the Welshman tried to continue initially but he clearly looked off:
Bale had his ankle taped again and spent significant time on the sidelines, returning to the pitch twice and clearly moving gingerly. ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan didn't understand why he wasn't taken off:
But Solari had already prepared a third substitution and went through with it, taking off Marcelo for Dani Carvajal. Bale completed the 3-0 defeat on his damaged ankle.
This was a rookie mistake from an inexperienced manager who should have stuck to his original plan. An insignificant loss like this will be forgotten in a matter of days, as Real will advance to the next round as group winners and remain on track to repeat as champions.
But if the damage to Bale's ankle turns out to be serious and he's sidelined for any amount of time, it will have grave consequences. Real's attack is struggling enough as it is, and if Los Blancos lose Bale for the busy festive period their La Liga challenge may well be over.
Real will host local rivals Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, while CSKA will start their winter break and won't return to action until 2019.