Real Madrid reconsidering Zidane's position after latest loss
After draws in Elche and Pamplona, defeat to Athletic in the Super Cup, and now Copa del Rey elimination in Alcoi, Bernabéu discussions about the French coach have resurfaced.
Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane are having an uncertain 2020-21 season, a footballing and emotional rollercoaster that is currently plummeting to new depths, and has put the position of the French coach at risk. It is, of course, a situation that he has been in before on numerous occasions, escaping each of them without too much damage, but the latest low - including the loss to third-tier opposition in the Copa del Rey - has new questions being raised in the upper echelons of the Santiago Bernabéu. Zidane’s future is, once again, up in the air.
Zidane’s recent run raises new doubts
As I’ve said, Zidane has already avoided similar situations in the past, although ‘similar’ does not mean ‘the same’. His team had, for example, never lost to a side in a lower division, never mind two divisions below. In the domestic cup he has previously tasted defeat to Celta Vigo, Leganés and Real Sociedad, but all of them were playing in the top flight. In terms of elite competition, that is the Champions League, only Pep Guardiola's Manchester City have knocked them out. Clearly, just a few days ago there was another blow as Athletic Club finished their early silverware hopes en route to beating Barcelona to the title.
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During his first period in charge, despite some disappointments and many with lingering doubts, Zidane managed to keep things in order, especially in Europe with three consecutive Champions League titles. This second spell, however, is proving less consistent. After defeats against PSG and Mallorca last season, the name of José Mourinho was murmured as a replacement. More rumours arose as Los Blancos struggled to make it through the group stage of the Champions League in this campaign, with the likelihood being that he would already have been ‘for hire’ had that not been achieved on the final day.
Indeed, it was that triumph against Borussia Dortmund, preceded by a key victory in Seville, that heralded Madrid's best moment of the season: six consecutive victories against Sevilla, Dortmund, Atlético, Athletic, Eibar and Granada, suggested there was plenty in the tank for the reigning champions and the defence looked solid. But that form was turned upside down in the final game of 2020: a draw in Elche was followed by a fortunate win over Celta, and then another draw in Pamplona, and now two defeats in a row, against Athletic Club and Alcoyano. One win in the last five games for Madrid points to more than just a blip, it’s seen as a crisis. Another one.
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In the 2017/18 campaign, Zidane took responsibility for the cup loss to Leganés, as he did on Wednesday night, just as he repeated the mantra that the focus was now on the LaLiga title chase and another Champions League crown. Most commentators have suggested that the domestic league is long gone, with in-form neighbours Atleti four points clear and with two games in hand an unlikely reach. The feeling about European glory is similar, with this team looking far from world beaters and with no apparent individual match winner like in the seasons that brought Zidane so much joy.
Zidane and Militao, Jovic, Odegaard...
The frustration from the club management is different from that of supporters. Often fans respond on a game by game basis: they win, he’s a genius, they lose, he’s a failure. We’re used to this fickleness.
But when the club has invested significant sums of finite resources on players such as Militao and Jovic (over €100 million outlay), and they are not being used, despite proven quality elsewhere, big questions are asked about the managerial or coaching skills. Martin Odegaard is another case in point. One of the stand out players in LaLiga last season on loan with Real Sociedad, brought back early to be the star in white that he was always destined to be, and is now desperate to leave the club again to get some playing time. Assets being wasted is not a good look in normal times, but in this current pandemic-impacted environment, it is even worse.
On Saturday, Madrid travel to Vitoria to face Alavés, a team that caused an upset at the Di Stéfano not so long ago, and this is a chance, maybe the last chance, for Zidane to get the team firing on all cylinders. The Champions League knockout phase is not far away, and Florentino Pérez is watching closely.