Good news, City: Real Madrid have been hit by the return of the Ronaldo sulk
21:49 GMT, 16 September 2012
Just before midnight on Saturday, in the relentless heat of the Spanish night, Cristiano Ronaldo shaped to take a free-kick in his usual fashion.
Three paces back. Legs a stride apart. Arms by his side. It is so familiar, we could see it in our sleep.
Seconds later the ball was in the crowd behind the goal at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. The shot had not remotely threatened Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop and, it transpired, was the final kick of another demoralising, confusing night for Ronaldo and his Real Madrid team.
Brooding Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and his Real Madrid team have been beaten in two of four La Liga matches
When the final whistle blew at 1-0 – Real's second defeat in only four La Liga games – Ronaldo left the pitch hastily, rubbing his bleeding left forearm to accentuate, once again, the physical suffering he felt he had endured from his opponents.
For him, it was one of those nights. Those of us who have watched him dozens of times for Madrid, Portugal and Manchester United, recognise the signs of discontent immediately.
Ronaldo, by nature, is a brooder. Despite the flamboyant nature of his football, he withdraws when things are not going well.
About 45 minutes later, he walked briskly through the interview area without pause. His features dark, still he rubbed that left arm.
He was red around the eyes and looked as though he had been crying. We can only presume that he had not. Within Jose Mourinho's team, Ronaldo is not the only problem.
After this defeat, the Madrid coach accused his players of not wishing to suffer enough. He bemoaned his team's lamentable defending.
'At the moment, I don't even have a team,' said Mourinho. Undoubtedly, though, Ronaldo's publicly declared unhappiness is at the heart of the malaise.
Having announced a fortnight ago he felt unloved and sad (maybe he had been crying, after all), he looks less of a talisman and more of a burden.
We have all seen the best and the worst of the 27-year-old over the years, of course. On Saturday, we saw only the ugly side.
Not his day: Ronaldo had a disappointing match against Sevilla ahead of Real's clash with Manchester City
During the first 15 minutes, Ronaldo tumbled to the ground five times. It set a pattern. He clashed off the ball with Fernando Navarro, Gary Medel and Emir Spahic.
There was not a lot of dignity involved. In the second half, pinned to the left side by the introduction of a second Madrid striker Karim Benzema, his influence waned further.
Occasionally, he shot from distance but it was selfish, wasteful football and when the fourth official – mistakenly, it turned out – held up his number for substitution with half an hour left, nobody was surprised.
Ronaldo rarely plays good football when he is not relaxed. He looks under pressure – even if it is of his own making – and that is only encouraging news for Manchester City ahead of Tuesday night's Champions League meeting.
Back on home turf on Tuesday, Ronaldo will strain to impress. He always does against English teams and on really big occasions. Often, though, the strain clouds his vision and complicates his decisions.
Mourinho certainly knows he has a problem. When asked on Saturday night about the relationship between Ronaldo's mood and the team's performance, he answered at length even if it was all rather cryptic. 'I do not think it has anything to do with it,' he said.
Unhappy camper: Jose Mourinho said he would have made seven changes on Saturday, were he allowed to
'Today's match was no different from those against Getafe and Granada, which we won.
'So I don't think that the rumours of the last couple of weeks have anything to do with it. It is about a state of mind and of two or three who aren't thinking like the rest.
'They are the minds of players who are not committed and for whom football is not a priority in their lives. There aren't many involved and it's complicated, but I'm coach and if there are those less committed, then it is my fault.'
We can only guess at the identity of Mourinho's private scapegoats, although the fact that Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil were hauled off at half-time may provide a clue.
'If I could have made seven changes, I would have,' added Mourinho.
'From the first to the last minute, we were poor. In the first minute, they scored a goal from a corner. 'This shows me the image of my team, lacking concentration, without being mentally prepared to suffer. At this time, my team isn't up to scratch.'
A poor man's Mario Ronaldo's brooding and melodrama was reminiscent of City's Balotelli (centre)
Mourinho's summation was accurate. The goal his team conceded in the second minute here – Piotr Trochowski volleying in unmarked from a corner – was as deflating for Madrid as it was uplifting for the home supporters. What is more, it set the tone.
Madrid enjoyed a lot of possession but attacked without fluency and defended poorly.
There were exceptions – Xabi Alonso and the dangerous attacking left back Marcelo – but they were few.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, was often peripheral. Too much posturing and not enough football.
On Sunday, the influential Marca newspaper described him as being 'less like Cristiano than ever'.
Certainly, on nights like this, he looks less a Ballon d'Or candidate and more a poor man's Mario Balotelli.