Ten points behind in the title race, humiliated by small clubs and living in fear Atalanta will end their Champions League hopes by March… Real Madrid are in limbo as Covid-stricken Zinedine Zidane’s job hangs in the balance
- Real Madrid trail La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid by 10 points after latest loss
- Reigning champions were shocked 2-1 at home by Levante on Saturday
- It was the latest setback for Zinedine Zidane, who tested positive for Covid-19
- Drawn with Atalanta in the Champions League, they fear an early elimination
- Real have repeatedly lost to smaller clubs in one of their worst seasons for ages
- Financial problems and salary cuts have made it even more difficult for Zidane
Zinedine Zidane has been absent for the last two games after his coronavirus positive test but whether on the bench or on his couch at home the 48-year-old seems to be presiding over a season being spent in limbo.
It is neither being played out with the will and determination of the run-in last season when Madrid were near invincible as they marched to the title, nor fought with the freshness and positivity that supporters hope will arrive with a big clearout next summer.
The manager’s lack of faith in his younger players is a constant and seemed to be on show again at the weekend when he chose to put midfielder Casemiro back into defence rather than throw on 20-year-old centre-back Victor Chust.
Luka Modric (left) and Karim Benzema cut dejected figures during Real Madrid’s shock home defeat by Levante on Saturday – a result that leaves them 10 points off the top of La Liga
To make matters worse, leaders Atletico Madrid retain a game in hand on the chasing pack
Manager Zinedine Zidane has had to stay away from the club after testing positive for Covid-19
He did at least put on 19-year-old forward Sergio Arribas with eight minutes left ahead of Isco who is one of many who, perhaps like his coach, senses he will not be at the club into next season.
On current form Zidane is facing the prospect of completing his worst season in charge of Real Madrid both in terms of trophies won and statistics clocked up.
The sense that this is a transition year for the club when staying financially sound has taken precedence over almost everything else might mean he remains until the end of the season because no one wants to make the change now.
Real Madrid are already out of the Spanish Cup, and have lost the Spanish Super Cup without even reaching the final of the four-team competition.
They are 10 points behind Atletico Madrid in La Liga and Diego Simeone’s side have played one fewer game.
Real won’t fancy the prospect of playing free-scoring Atalanta next in the Champions League
Sergio Ramos pictured during the Super Cup semi-final with Bilbao, which they lost 2-1
It’s beginning to look like the Champions League will be the only chance to win anything this campaign and far from taking confidence from the fact that they have drawn Atalanta, Madrid fans are concerned about the side’s awful record this season against so-called smaller teams.
The three home losses in the league have all come against humble opposition with Alaves, Cadiz and Levante taking three points against them.
That has set the alarm bells ringing and Madrid know a Champions League exit that effectively ends the season in March would be catastrophic.
That might be enough to force the club to bring in a new coach but if the Spanish club do progress then Zidane will stay in charge despite already having clocked up eight defeats in 28 in all competitions.
One more loss and he equals his current worst return – nine defeats in the 2017-18 season.
Toni Kroos reacts during the loss to Levante, which was Real’s fourth league loss this season
Eden Hazard put in another dismal performance and was substituted for winger Vinicius Junior
Real Madrid fixtures
LaLiga unless stated
Saturday Huesca (A)
February 9 Getafe (H)
February 14 Valencia (H0
February 21 TBC Valladolid (A)
February 24 Atalanta (A) Champions League last-16, first leg
February 28 TBC Real Sociedad (H)
The team has won just 15 of the 28 games played and worse still the mood in the camp does not seem to be one that might inspire a big turnaround in fortunes mid-season.
Whenever Zidane’s job is under immediate threat his most loyal troops stand up for him. But Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro are not going to be enough on their own to save the season.
Sergio Ramos has always played a huge part in Project Zizou but the coach has been without his on-the-pitch leader of late and the knee injury that has sidelined him since January 15 is not the biggest concern.
Ramos continues to be unsettled with only five months left on his current deal.
He has rejected the offer of signing for another year on the same €12m (£10.6m) net money because the new contract would be subject to a likely 10 per cent subsequent salary cut and he doesn’t want to sign for less and only for one year.
Madrid players have still not agreed on the details of that salary cut and that is straining relations too.
Madrid went down to 10 men on nine minutes when Eder Militao (R) brought down Sergio Leon
Some are calling this the curse of the title-defending season. Madrid have not won back-to-back leagues since the 2007-08 campaign.
This year was always going to be especially difficult because of the short pre-season and the games coming at such a rate but it seems being out of the cup and having longer between matches is also no help to Madrid who were so well beaten at the weekend.
They were not helped by a poor refereeing decision. Levante forward Sergio Leon seemed to run across and into Eder Militao and with Raphael Varane the covering defender, even if the match referee believed Militao guilty of a foul, the red card was extremely harsh.
But it is a clear sign of the despondency around this group of players and Zidane’s leadership of them that little has been made of that decision. Madrid appear to be drifting.
Too many of Zidane’s player suspect they will not be playing a big part in the club’s future and it is showing in their current performances. And the same may well apply to Zidane.
Zidane’s Real have suffered more defeats than usual in what is the manager’s worst season yet
Atletico Madrid continue to roll on at the top – winning 4-2 away at Cadiz on Sunday
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