BARCELONA - A suspension for Cristiano Ronaldo is the latest concern for coach Carlo Ancelotti whose Real Madrid side are looking far from the slick machine that strung together 22 straight victories before Christmas.
Ronaldo was the inspiration behind that Spanish record-winning streak but he had one of his poorest matches in a Real shirt in the 2-1 victory over Cordoba on Saturday, the win coming through a late penalty from Gareth Bale.
Real still lead the La Liga table by a point and have a game in hand but they have an in-form Barcelona breathing down their necks. While Real are stuttering, Barca have clicked into gear and tore apart Elche 6-0 and Atletico Madrid are also looking strong, four points behind after a 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano.
Ronaldo was unable to make an impact against Cordoba and his frustration saw him lash out with his hand against Jose Crespo which the referee missed and then minutes later he was sent off for kicking out at Edimar.
He was quick to apologise on Twitter after the game but he is now likely to be suspended for the next two matches against Real Sociedad and Sevilla but could also miss the derby with Atletico. It was generally a disjointed match from Real whose rhythm and link-up play has dropped noticeably in recent weeks.
They lost their first match back after the Christmas break as they looked sluggish against Valencia and then followed it up with elimination from the King's Cup at the hands of Atletico Madrid.
Injuries have played their part, with Luka Modric and Isco missing from the centre of the pitch against Cordoba, which has put a greater demand on the shoulders of Toni Kroos who is looking weary.
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas was still upbeat and pointed towards the mentality of the players that helped them beat Cordoba.
"These are the types of victories that win you leagues," Casillas told reporters.
"It was difficult for us and we didn't play at our best but we are now boosted by the three points. It came more as a result of effort than anything else."