Real Madrid's home discomforts can ease at Schalke in Champions League

ASTANA. KAZINFORM - Real Madrid scored twice against Deportivo La Coruña on Saturday evening but the loudest noise heard at the Santiago Bernabéu was not the cheers that greeted the goals, scored by Isco and Karim Benzema. It was the whistles of reprobation that accompanied the club's captain, Iker Casillas, when his name was read out before the game. According to the Spanish sports daily Marca, which had arrived equipped with a decibel meter, the whistles measured 110 decibels, Kazinform refers to

A 2-0 victory - in which the goalkeeper made two important saves - meant that Madrid remained a point clear at the top of the table and that Casillas equalled Raúl as the player with the most league wins in Real Madrid's entire history, but it did not matter and nor was he alone. They may have been more timid, but there were whistles too for the Ballon d'Or winner and top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo and for the coach who finally brought them the 10th European Cup that had so obsessed over 12 long years later, Carlo Ancelotti.

Madrid's fans are as quick, or quicker, to whistle as they are to applaud. The frustration is often fleeting and swiftly forgotten; a player can be whistled one week and cheered the next, no apology offered or expected, no hint of guilt or embarrassment expressed. Nor is it ever all-comers: on Saturday some fans responded to the whistles with applause. But this was not entirely meaningless, not least because it reveals faultlines among the fans and - in the case of Casillas - a deeper divide that feels impossible to bridge now.

Beyond Casillas, these are difficult days for Madrid. Saturday was Valentine's Day: "a day to make the fans fall in love again", the headline had said. It was a week after Madrid had been hammered 4-0 in the city derby; a week too since Ronaldo had celebrated his 30th birthday party and some took offence, while others flew into the kind of righteous indignation that appears put on. It did not matter that the pictures from the party were extremely tame: no drunken stumbling, no misbehaving, not even particularly ostentatious, yet holding a 30th birthday party after such a painful defeat was treated as an insult to fans.

Kevin Roldan, the Colombian singer invited to perform who few had particularly heard of, became famous - which may well have been the way he wanted it, after all they were his pictures that appeared in the press. And the reaction was as overblown as it was manipulated. With no midweek game for the club, it festered toon - six days that were a case study in politics, power and propaganda.

Had Madrid won the derby, they may not have cared, but Madrid had been hammered. And amid all the talk about the party, comparatively little was said of the partido - the match. And in the match, they had been awful, having just one shot on target all game. Ancelotti had admitted that "Atlético were better than us in everything," and that none of his players had played well. Conceding four was a humiliation; going six consecutive games against Atlético without winning hurt.

So it was that Saturday was billed as the chance to enamour the fans once more, to make it up to them. But the flowers Madrid brought had come from the local petrol station and they were wilting. A flat 2-0 victory did not impress them much. The whistles were not replaced by cheers. "In terms of play, we were the better team," said Víctor Fernández, the Deportivo manager. That was an exaggeration but his side had hit the post, Madrid had not been good and the underlying trend did not feel like it had been reversed.

That trend is a concerning one. Madrid won 22 consecutive games before Christmas, culminating in them clinching the Club World Club against San Lorenzo. Since Christmas, they have lost three and won six. This may not sound too bad, and they are still top, but they are out of the Copa del Rey, the gap has closed to a single point, and the sensations are far from positive.

Of those six wins, perhaps only the victory over Real Sociedad truly impressed. Madrid were extremely fortunate to beat Córdoba with a late from Gareth Bale, they struggled to defeat Sevilla 2-1, and the performance against Depor was nothing special. Ancelotti admitted that his three central midfielders were too close to each other. As for the three forwards, they were miles away, removed from the rest.

Injuries do not help. Pepe, Sergio Ramos and James Rodríguez have missed games. So has Luka Modric, whose absence from a long-term achilles tear is only now being fully felt, even though the decline in play was quickly apparent. There is less fluidity, less creativity than there was. There is less life too - they look like a demotivated team and a tired one as well.

Ronaldo too has dipped in form and is suffering from the inevitable comparisons; from being 12 league goals ahead of Leo Messi in the standings two months ago, his lead is now just two. A post-Ballon d'Or drop off is habitual for the player, but this feels more profound. He has not scored in four games, missed two more through suspension, and has just three goals in 2015. No major problem for an ordinary player at an ordinary club but Ronaldo is no ordinary player and Madrid is an extraordinary club where the demands are suffocatingly high.

Ronaldo looks sluggish and disconnected, not entirely fit: concerns remain about his knee, while the club have briefed - perhaps self-interestedly - that he is not emotionally right after he split up from his girlfriend. Against Córdoba he was sent off for kicking out at an opponent. Against Deportivo, Isco scored while Ronaldo was still lamenting the chance that had just escaped him and at full time, he headed straight down the tunnel without looking back, without the fans having been won back.

Not yet, but there is time. Ancelotti called the return to Europe an "opportunity" back in September, when Madrid had lost two games running, sat in 13th and were six points behind Barcelona. They won that night and then 21 more in a row, returning to the top and cruising through their Champions League group, favourites once more. This return to Europe is an opportunity too. The European Cup is a trophy that Madrid consider their own and they are the defending champions; there is motivation where domestically there is monotony. There are good memories too: the last time Madrid went to Schalke, a year ago, they scored six.

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