Sevilla upset sends Real Madrid to second straight loss, third place

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Remember last week? Oh, it was great. All your NCAA brackets were perfect, President Obama’s mom jeans were still funny, and D.C. wasn’t buried under four feet of snow. The world was our oyster and oysters didn’t secretly taste like flat Smirnoff Ice. Halcyon days, my friend.

At least, that’s how Real Madrid might describe them. Seven days ago, we saw the Merengues as one of the top two teams in Europe – the squad that could prevent Bayern Munich from retaining its European title. Since then El Real has lost at home to Barcelona and, after today’s 2-1 at the Sanchez Pizjuan, fallen at Sevilla.

They’ve also fallen behind in La Liga. Atlético Madrid, 1-0 winners of Granada, is alone at the top of the league, now with 73 points in 30 games. Barcelona, overcoming Víctor Valdés’s misfortune to down Celta Vigo, are second with 72. Thanks to its two-straight losses, Real Madrid is now back in third — the place they’ve occupied for most of the season — with 70 points.

The day got off to a strong start, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener giving the visitors a lead after 14 minutes. Five minutes later, however, Carlos Bacca pulled Unai Emery’s team even, with the Colombian’s second mid-way through the final period giving Sevilla a 2-1 win.

It’s not like Real Madrid played poorly, though Diego López in goal did have a bad day. The visitors kept 69 percent of the ball and managed eight shots on target, outshooting Sevilla 26-12 overall. They forced Beto, Sevilla’s goalkeeper, into a Man of the Match-caliber performance. Ultimately, however, they were unable to protect their lead and fell for the fourth time this season.

This is why those early season stumbles mattered. This is why there were doubts about Real Madrid’s title chances, even as they looked so good in January. When they finally claimed Spain’s lead, those concerns naturally disappeared, but the logic was the same. Real Madrid’s early struggles — the hole it dug behind Atlético and Barcelona — eliminated its margin for error. They couldn’t afford another down period.

When Atlético and Barça struggled in February, Real Madrid took advantage. Now, unable to maintain their torrid pace, they’re giving new life to those buried worries. With eight rounds to go — having been shaken on Saturday by their arch rivals — Real Madrid need help to claim the title.

That help could still come when Atlético faces Barcelona on the season’s last day. And with each team having shown their vulnerabilities, games like Atleti’s Saturday visit to Athletic don’t guarantee three points.

Yet where once Real Madrid controlled their La Liga fate, now they’re at the mercy of their two rivals. And it all changed over the course of four days.