With Real Madrid nine points off Barcelona in LaLiga and out of the Copa, only Champions League success will guarantee Santiago Solari's future.
Real Madrid played well on Wednesday, but came unstuck in both penalty boxes. At one end, they initially kept Barcelona largely at bay - giving up just one shot before the break, the Catalans' worst first-half tally of the season - only for three goals from three attempts on target to put paid to their hopes. At the other end, meanwhile, they fired nothing but blanks (hitting no fewer than 14 shots without success).
Champions League now Solari's only hope of silverware
The consequences were dramatic: Madrid bowed out of the Copa del Rey, the most straightforwardly obtainable trophy available to them this season and, for that reason, Solari's best bet for securing his place in the Bernabéu dugout beyond the summer. Now, after 21 victories, six defeats and two draws (a 72% win rate that far outstrips predecessor Julen Lopetegui's 43%), he finds himself in an all-or-nothing situation: only by lifting the Champions League can he guarantee his future.
Just as Zinedine Zidane had before him, Solari made the step-up from the 'B' team when he was appointed as interim coach in October, and it was perhaps this symmetry that contributed to him being rewarded for his promising start (he began with four wins from four) with a two-and-a-half year deal as full-time boss. However, he struggled to shake off the 'provisional' tag: having strengthened his position with December's Club World Cup triumph, he weakened it with a January slump that brought a draw and two defeats in the first two weeks of the New Year.
Solari proceeded to recover from that bad patch by leading Madrid to their best run of the season, registering seven victories and a creditable 1-1 Copa draw at the Camp Nou - a result that left Los Blancos with plenty of optimism going into this Wednesday's return in the Spanish capital, and justifiably so. The European champions were combining good displays with good results. But then came an unexpected chill wind that caused the whole house of cards to teeter: a 2-1 home defeat to Girona that all but extinguished their LaLiga title aspirations.
Madrid got through their next clash, at Levante, but this midweek had their Copa hopes dashed by their arch rivals. "That's a strange question. We are all responsible for both victories and defeats," Solari replied when asked post-match to assess his share of the blame for his side's elimination. But with the cup out of reach, it is the Argentine in particular who now depends on success in the Champions League.