Real Madrid have released the pressure on Zinedine Zidane temporarily, with the next job to fix their dismal start in the Champions League. Madrid’s 3-1 victory over Barcelona in the Clasico on Saturday swerved a third consecutive defeat after losses to Cadiz in La Liga and Shakhtar Donetsk. “There are always bad spells,” said Sergio Ramos. “Hopefully this one has only lasted a week.” But the effects of the implosion against Shakhtar, who had 10 first team players missing due to coronavirus infections, still linger, with Madrid sitting bottom of Group B.
A win away to Borussia Monchengladbach today would limit the damage, especially after Monchengladbach’s draw with Inter Milan kept the group tight. And Zidane will know a convincing performance in Germany should suspend talk of a crisis and dispel doubts about his future, at least for now.
Even for Real Madrid, two defeats seemed scant ammunition for the uncertainty around their coach that followed. Some reports in the Spanish press were even discussing the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino if mistakes were not rectified at Camp Nou. “I have always been critical of myself, it is what drives you to improve,” said Zidane. “After a loss, as a coach, most of the criticism comes at me and that’s normal.”
The quickness to question the Frenchman has become a regular feature of his tenure, even while the players sing his praises and the trophies have poured in. It was only three months ago Real Madrid were winning their second La Liga title of his three full seasons in charge, to go with three triumphs in the Champions League.
Success, though, has never been enough for Zidane. His reputation as a man-manager has always been a back-handed compliment, even if getting the best out of good players is surely the key to being the coach of a team like Real Madrid. Barcelona wanted a return to the club’s DNA by putting Quique Setien and now Ronald Koeman in charge — but few could argue they are not worse off now than under the more pragmatic Ernesto Valverde. The decision to sack Valverde was “not coherent or logical”, Gerard Pique said on Friday. If capitulation has become Barca’s recurring flaw, it is inconsistency that undermines Zidane’s Madrid. When they stormed to the title during the 11-game run-in last season, it was with no other distractions and a trophy in sight.
With a less immediate prize and against lesser opponents, like Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk, the suspicion is those players Zidane trusts completely become unreliable. Zidane routinely sidesteps the issue of his future, which creates a nervousness after he resigned so unexpectedly after winning the Champions League in 2018. And perhaps that contributes to the sense of short-termism, an ageing team managed by a coach that seemingly refuses to look beyond the end of the week.
Every slip-up is projected as a slump and any doubts feed the idea Zidane might suddenly depart. “Nothing changes,” he said. “Last year? The same. In my first spell? The same. What I have to do is do my job.” Anything but a win today and the cycle begins again.
Champions League fixtures
GROUP A: Lokomotiv Moscow vs Bayern Munich; Atletico Madrid vs FC Red Bull Salzburg
GROUP B: Shakhtar Donetsk vs Inter Milan; Borussia Monchengladbach vs Real Madrid
GROUP C: FC Porto vs Olympiakos; Marseille vs Manchester City
GROUP D: Atalanta vs Ajax; Liverpool vs FC Midtjylland
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