PETE JENSON: Zinedine Zidane has three games to save his job. Real Madrid could be out of the Champions League and La Liga title race in under two weeks after a run of key games… lose those and it could be the end of legendary boss
- Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is under intense scrutiny after yet another loss
- Madrid lost 2-0 at Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday in the Champions League
- They are in real danger of missing out on the knockout stages of competition
- Madrid also sit seven points adrift of Real Sociedad at the top of LaLiga
- Madrid face Sevilla, Monchengladbach and Atletico in their next three games
- Mauricio Pochettino and Raul are waiting in the wings to take over from Zidane
Real Madrid’s season, and quite possibly the fate of coach Zinedine Zidane, will be decided in the club’s next three games – if things go well the Frenchman will begin to feel unbreakable, if they go badly the season could be as good as over and the legendary figure as good as out.
A worst case scenario of defeats to Sevilla on Saturday, Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday and Atletico Madrid the following Saturday could leave Real Madrid out of Europe and 12 points off the pace having played a game more in LaLiga.
Things could just as easily go well, such is the see-saw nature of Madrid’s season, and if they were to win those three games they could be right near the top and through to the knockout stages in Europe.
Zinedine Zidane faces a make or break two weeks in both LaLiga and the Champions League
Zidane’s Real Madrid side fell to yet another defeat on Tuesday, losing 2-0 to Shakhtar Donetsk
FAVOURITES TO REPLACE ZIDANE
Mauricio Pochettino – 1/1
Raul – 7/2
Massimiliano Allegri – 7/1
Guti – 9/1
Leonardo Jardim – 10/1
Roberto Martinez – 12/1
Arsene Wenger – 12/1
Joachim Low – 14/1
*Odds courtsey of Oddschecker*
For now the Madrid media will dwell on a fifth defeat of the season. Marca spoke of the ‘fiasco of the signing of Hazard’ – with Madrid being denied the talisman they so badly needed after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.
Elsewhere it spoke of ‘the noose of the Europa League’. Most supporters would see it as a humiliation to have to play the junior competition having dominated the senior version for so long. It could be worse than that of course – If Madrid lose on Wednesday and Inter Milan win, they will finish bottom of the group; fail to qualify for the next round for the first time ever, and not even be in the Europa League.
It made things worse that Tuesday night’s defeat came in Kiev where the team won its last European Cup against Liverpool. In some ways that was the beginning of the end for Madrid as the continent’s dominant force. Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale spoke of leaving after the match ended. Bale’s was more: ‘I’m off if I don’t play (he had been left on the bench for the final before climbing off it and winning it); but Ronaldo was very much an adios and he did go that summer.
Zidane went too. In part because he wanted Bale to go and Ronaldo to stay. Also because he knew the club were not going to sign the players he thought they needed. Since his return things have not been the same despite last season ending with the league title.
Since he came back to the club he has lost five of the 13 Champions League games he has taken charge of.
Eden Hazard has endured a dismal time in the Spanish capital since his mega-money transfer
There are defensive problems that can be put down in part to the absence of Sergio Ramos but there are problems scoring goals that point more to Zidane and the failure to find attacking solutions that don’t rely on individual moments of brilliance.
Tuesday night was the first Champions League game in 12 that Madrid had not scored in but it was the third time this season they had drawn a blank. The French coach’s big investment in the signing of Hazard has not paid off for reasons largely beyond his control. Neither is it his fault that financial restrictions meant Real Madrid went a summer without a signing for the first time in 40 years.
But more than results, the doubts go deeper. This is a young Madrid but do they have a coach who can really improve young players?
For the last four years the club have tried to hoover up the best young talent in world football. But is there any sign that Vinicius, 20, Rodrygo Goes, 19, Marco Asensio, 24, Eder Militao, 22, Alvaro Odriozola, 21 and Luka Jovic, 22 are getting any better? Other young talents such as Sergio Reguilon and Marcos Llorente have been allowed to leave. Even Martin Odegaard, who was the best player in LaLiga for much of last season at Real Sociedad has stalled back at Madrid.
Former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino is waiting in the wings to take over from Zidane
Real’s legendary striker Raul, who’s in charge of club’s Castilla side, is also in the running
It’s true that the Norwegian has had injury problems so his game time has been limited, and the one young player who is really pushing on, Fede Valverde, is out with a cracked shin.
This is a strange season and Madrid are suffering more than most from the empty stadium having robbed them of their customary huge home advantage. They also have more than their fair share of top players struggling under the weight of so many games and so little proper pre-season.
But it may be that Zidane is no longer the right man for the task in hand. He was perfect when the club had big game players and needed the occasional tactical adjustment, lots of a shrewd man-management and squad stewardship. But now perhaps a coach who can take a group of early 20-somethings and build a side from scratch is what is needed. Inevitably Mauricio Pochettino and Raul are already installed as the alternatives.
Of course, there is one other thing Zidane is very good at – getting out of check, avoiding checkmate. The grandmaster will see the Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach, Atletico triple header as a challenge, another chance to show he is not finished at Madrid yet.
The Spanish giants have endured a an awful start to the season by their high standards