After two Clásico defeats in four days, the cracks are more visible than ever at Real Madrid, where a summer overhaul is surely a must.
In the space of just four days, Real Madrid have bowed out of the Copa del Rey and, albeit not mathematically, the race for the LaLiga title. And, in the process, have had to watch arch rivals Barcelona twice come away victorious from the Bernabéu. In a year that has been almost unceasingly turbulent, Los Blancos once more find themselves in a state of crisis, ahead of a summer that will surely have to bring a first-team overhaul. Both in the dugout, where Santiago Solari is plum out of credit, and, above all, in a squad now carrying a good few high-paid, senior players who are surrounded by question marks.
In addition to Isco and Marcelo's tumble down the pecking order - which has, in turn, caused both players' transfer values to plummet - Saturday's LaLiga Clásico brought confirmation that the Madrid supporters have had enough of Gareth Bale, and evidence of ever-widening fault lines between the coach and Toni Kroos. Crack after crack is beginning to appear in a luxury vase that looks to be just one blow - in the shape of Champions League elimination - away from smashing into a thousand tiny pieces.
Players losing market value
"It's not in Madrid's interest to let a player like Bale drop in value," was the post-match verdict of Spanish television pundit Julio 'Maldini' Maldonado. The club find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the Welshman, who was roundly jeered by the Bernabéu, and similarly short on room for manoeuvre with two other big-name individuals. Marcelo has made it clear that he is keen to leave, but he'll be 31 in May, has lost his starting place and has also fallen out of favour with the Brazil coach, Tite. The left-back's eagerness to join Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus means Madrid can't even lure other clubs into a bidding war.
Isco is an even more serious case. The Spaniard's issues with Solari have left him firmly in the club's bad books, and have caused his market worth to fall by 17%. The problem of dwindling values is not confined to the star figures, either: Brahim Díaz (who cost 15m euros) and Mariano Díaz (21.5m) are alternating between the bench and the stands. If they are to make the expensive signings they need this summer, Madrid need to sell, too - but, with every passing week, many of their current assets are looking less and less profitable.
Growing issue with Kroos
In Saturday's Clásico, Solari once again opted to bring Kroos off with plenty of the 90 still to play, having drawn a reaction of clear annoyance from the German when he did the same at Levante a week ago. The midfielder had not been substituted in consecutive league games since back in January 2017. He's not in a good place right now, and offered up proof of that with his readiness to get involved in a social-media tangle with Bernd Schuster in the wake of the criticism he received from his compatriot ("right now, he's a diesel tractor").
With Madrid trailing at the Bernabéu, Solari preferred to turn to Federico Valverde, before offering a post-match explanation that sounded somewhat like a warning shot. "The youngsters are knocking at the door, that's football," the Argentine said. "Time goes by and people get to see new players; that's football and that's life." The Madrid fans are also less than enamoured of Kroos right now: there were whistles for him when he was taken off, and he was also given an earful by supporters waiting at the players' exit after the match.
Only the youngsters are putting up a fight
It never bodes well when the only players who seem to be taking the team by the scruff of the neck are its unestablished members: youth products and young new recruits like Sergio Reguilón and Vinicius. In the LaLiga Clásico, the Brazilian took twice as many shots (six) as Bale and Karim Benzema put together - a clear indication, above and beyond the problems he's having actually putting away his chances, of who is taking the initiative in the Madrid attack.
In both clashes with Barça, Reguilón's energy at left-back was outstanding, meanwhile. Even in the half an hour or so that he was on the field on Saturday, Valverde also brought a greater degree of spark to the side. That youth-product bounce is something which Solari - given Casemiro's present poor form - must also be impatient to inject into the side in the form of Marcos Llorente, who remains out injured. In the summer, Madrid will have a decision to make on what balance they wish to strike between relying on youth and relying on the chequebook.
Solari: doubts over interim-turned-permanent boss
With Madrid keen to get rid of the 'provisional' tag they themselves had given Solari when appointing him in October, the Argentine now has a contract until 2021. However, Los Blancos are discreetly keeping an eye out for a new coach, with rumours rife: Germany manager Joachim Löw, who club president Florentino Pérez has always been an admirer of, was seen in the Bernabéu directors' box on Saturday. So too was the charismatic current Cameroon boss Clarence Seedorf. (Zinedine Zidane was there too, incidentally.) There is certainly no shortage of foxes circling Solari's coop, with only a 14th European title likely to ensure his survival.