MADRID — After only 10 matches, Real Madrid is already facing a deficit it has never been able to overcome.
The defending champions, who have not won back-to-back Spanish league titles in a decade, trail Barcelona by eight points. Madrid hasn’t been this far behind Barcelona since Jose Mourinho was coach in 2012-13, a season in which the team finished 15 points off the lead.
Madrid was moving up the standings this season after four straight victories, but the recovery from a poor start — the team failed to win its first three home games — was halted by a 2-1 loss at newcomer Girona on Sunday.
"We can still overcome this," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. "We’ve lost three points and now we are eight behind, but it’s not going to change anything in the way we do things. We know we can recover. We will have better days and our rivals will eventually lose points throughout the season."
There are no signs that Barcelona will be slowing down anytime soon, though. It has won 13 of its last 14 games in all competitions and has 28 points after nine wins and a draw.
And before catching up to Barcelona, Madrid will still have to surpass Valencia, which is in second place with 24 points from seven wins and three draws. Madrid is third with 20 points, the same as Atletico Madrid.
"We are letting too many points slip by," said Madrid playmaker Isco, who scored the team’s lone goal against Girona. "But you can never count Madrid out, there’s a lot of league left. Now it’s when we need to show that we are a real team, that we trust each other and that we can overcome this situation."
Madrid opened the league with a convincing 3-0 win at Deportivo La Coruna, but then it struggled in consecutive home draws against Valencia and Levante. It won at Real Sociedad, one of the leaders at the time, then conceded an injury-time goal in a loss to Real Betis, also at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Zidane’s team had beaten Alaves, Espanyol, Getafe and Eibar in the last four rounds.
"We are all worried," Madrid midfielder Casemiro said. "We had been creating a lot of scoring chances, but that didn’t happen (against Girona). We need to start playing better, we need to work harder."
There were high expectations for Madrid after a successful season in which it won the league for the first time in five years and secured its second consecutive Champions League title. The expectations increased after it defeated Manchester United to win the European Super Cup, and following consecutive victories over Barcelona to win the Spanish Super Cup.
Madrid also entered the 2012-13 season boosted by winning the league title with Mourinho the season before, but it disappointed and couldn’t repeat as champion. Mourinho eventually left at the end of the season, which he called the worst of his career.
"We have a great responsibility," Isco said. "We can’t keep going like this, we are Madrid. We have shown in the past that we are capable of turning things around, and now we have a chance to do it again."