Real Madrid's coach Jose Mourinho benched captain Iker Casillas.

Madrid – It promises to be a sad, cold Christmas for troubled Spanish giants Real Madrid, immersed as they are in a massive sporting and institutional crisis.

Last season went well enough for the whites – Liga champions with a hundred points and Champions League semi-finalists – but this campaign has been astonishingly disastrous.

Jose Mourinho's troubled team only managed to finish second in their Champions League group and now face Manchester United in the round of 16, with the second leg at Old Trafford.

Real are also struggling in the Spanish cup, and need to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Celta Vigo in the fifth round.

And in La Liga, the whites have been unable to keep up with rampant Barcelona, who have made a record-breaking start.

On Saturday Real crashed 3-2 at fourth-placed Malaga, a defeat which left them third and a massive 16 points behind Barca – a record gap at this stage of the season.

What made the Malaga meltdown even more bitter for the fans was that Mourinho surprisingly dropped club captain Iker Casillas, one of the greatest goalkeepers in football history, the man who helped Spain to win the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 and 2008 Euros.

Mourinho replaced Casillas with Antonio Adan, and was rewarded with a shaky display from the eternal reserve. Afterwards, he denied that Casillas had been dropped for having questioned some of his recent decisions.

“It was a purely technical decision,” said Mourinho. “You can invent the stories you like, but it was a technical decision.

“The truth is that Adan is in better shape than Casillas right now, in my opinion.”

However, defender Sergio Ramos – the same as the rest of the players – was staggered at the sight of Casillas sitting on the subs' bench. “I was surprised at this,” said Ramos, “to say the least.”

Even more surprised was club president Florentino Perez, when he found out just before the game.

The decision to drop the hugely popular Casillas, who has been first choice keeper since 2000, has been interpreted by many journalists and fans as an attempt to provoke Perez into sacking him.

An online poll taken by AS showed, on Sunday, that 93 per cent of readers think Mourinho is now looking to be sacked, before the season gets even worse.

Radio station Cadena SER claimed on Sunday that Perez would probably like to see the back of the Portuguese coach now, but cannot afford the €40 million needed to pay off Mourinho and his six assistants.

Maybe Perez now regrets having extended the contracts of Mourinho and his assistants, just six months ago, to 2016. According to media reports, he is also regretting having given Mourinho more power than previous coaches.

In 2011 Perez agreed to Mourinho's demand to sack Jorge Valdano as the club's sporting director – a job the “Special One” then took over himself.

Last summer Mourinho asked Perez to push aside former Real idol Zinedine Zidane – and the president again meekly acquiesced.

Sacking Mourinho would not only be hugely expensive for Perez but would also raise the question of what would replace the “Portuguese Clan”, as they are known.

Cadena SER pointed out on Sunday that “if the Portuguese left, they would be a massive vacuum at the club...There would be no coach, no assistants, no structure, no philosophy.”

Mourinho said on Saturday: “I am not considering resigning and I am not worried about my job.”

However, an online poll taken by Marca showed, on Sunday, that 82 per cent of readers think he should be sacked immediately.

Six months ago, after winning La Liga, Mourinho was very popular with the madridista fans, seen as the man to end Barcelona's domestic domination.

Now most of those fans would clearly like to see the end of his turbulent, bittersweet two-and-a-half year reign. – Sapa-dpa