All of a sudden, everything seemed to have turned complicated for Zidane. Later today, Real Madrid’s name won’t be among those going into the Copa del Rey draw, but that is the least of it. The unbeaten run is over and with it, part of the team’s advantage in the LaLiga – sufficiently enough that their closest rivals now have their hopes restored. Taking a quick glance at the fixtures list and immediately, it’s looking daunting – away trips to Vigo, Pamplona, Vila-real and Valencia. Now everything sounds a little tougher for Madrid than it did just a short while ago when they looked unbeatable. But that’s how football can be – it creates exaggerated feelings. One minute you feel invincible and the next, it’s all doom and gloom - and all just because of two results.
Problems piling up
For two results but that’s not strictly all, it must be said. Madrid have an epidemic of muscular injuries, which suggests poor training practices after returning from the Club World Cup. Meanwhile, some players are starting to test the fans’ patience to the point of irritation, and that adds an extra dose of pressure whenever they appear at the Bernabéu. Coentrão and Danilo are two obvious cases in point, Benzema isn’t too far behind them. Bale, who was playing superbly when he fell injured, still hasn’t been given a date when he is due to return. Cristiano is adapting to his new role although he is still by far and away the most threatening player in Madrid’s attack but that cannot hide that he isn’t the player he was. And neither is Keylor Navas.
Test of character
At the same time, Barça are on the up and Sevilla are looking very strong. A little further on the horizon is the Champions League date with Napoli, with the return leg over there. These are the first dark days which Zidane has been through; until now he has only had two setbacks – the defeats to Atlético and Wolfsburg, both long forgotten. This is something different. Now he is feeling the burden of an injury crisis, for his preference for fielding Benzema, for the ‘cardinal sin’ of using the dreaded words ‘the Treble’ (in uncharacteristic form) and for the existence of dead weights in the squad when not so long ago it appeared that every player had a use. Now, under those difficulties, is when we will see his mettle as a coach. Now Madrid need his leadership more than ever.