Santiago Solari left Real Madrid nearer the top of LaLiga than they are today. When he returned, Zinedine Zidane was all optimism - but now...
Zinedine Zidane's return to Real Madrid brought a much-needed injection of optimism to a club which, after seeing their silverware hopes go up in smoke on three separate fronts, were royally down in the dumps: in just seven days in late February and early March, Los Blancos had been eliminated from the Copa del Rey by Barcelona, had crashed out of the Champions League in stunning fashion, losing 4-1 at home to Ajax, and had had an inconsistent LaLiga campaign knocked on the head once and for all - also by Barça.
When, in the wake of Santiago Solari's sacking, Zidane's surprise re-appointment was announced, Madrid were 12 points adrift of leaders Barça and five off Atlético Madrid, and had, realistically at least, been left to fight it out with Los Rojiblancos for a second-placed finish. Even that is all but impossible now, though. With three games to go in a league championship wrapped up by Barça at the weekend, Atlético have extended their lead over their neighbours to nine - exactly the number of points still left to play for (although Madrid do at least have the head-to-head advantage).
Zidane: from Real positivity to Rayo apology
Since Zidane took over, results - and performances - have led him to temper his initial, upbeat message to such an extent that he has now even found himself having to say sorry for his side's shortcomings. "We want to finish the season off on a high," was his positive mantra before the wins over Celta Vigo and Huesca, but after defeat to Valencia, his tone began to shift. "We're losing more ground," he conceded post-match at Mestalla. "We've talked about finishing as close to the top as we can, and this loss makes it that bit harder." Finally, after going down 1-0 at struggling Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, a visibly angry Zidane was left asking for the fans' forgiveness: "We have to apologise [...]. I'd like the season to be over."
In eight Primera División matches, Zidane has managed four victories, two draws and two defeats: an average of 1.75 points a game and a win percentage of just 50%, despite only facing three clubs in contention for European qualification: Getafe, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia.
Away form has done for Madrid since Zidane return
Unlike under Solari, it is away from home that points have been dropped. While the Argentine picked up three of his four LaLiga losses at the Bernabéu (against Barça, Real Sociedad and Girona), Zidane has won every game on home turf, but can't get his side to perform on their travels. After losing his first away assignment, against Valencia, he has mustered two draws and a defeat from the three trips that have followed, all within the Madrid region: Leganés at Butarque, Getafe at the Coliseum and Rayo at Vallecas.
Madrid fighting to avoid record points deficit
It is this away form that has put paid to Madrid's aims of snatching second. Now, with third place at least secure, the Frenchman must rouse his troops sufficiently to stave off an unwanted piece of history: finishing further behind Barça in LaLiga than ever before. As things stand, the record is 18 points - the same gap that currently separates them from their arch rivals...