Real Madrid’s confidence in Zinedine Zidane is being tested again after Wednesday’s Copa del Rey embarrassment sparked new concerns about the club’s present and future.
Humiliated by Segunda B in the Alcoyano Cup, a week after it was fought and largely played out in the Athletic Bilbao Spanish Super Cup, Madrid are in another slump.
Your season could end without a trophy. Atletico Madrid are marching on in La Liga and the European elite are widening the gap even further from Spain’s once impressive trio in the Champions League.
More worryingly, however, this appears to be a roster in dire need of renovation and a team stripped of the strengths that led them to the title just six months ago.
The question is whether Zidane is the person for rebuilding or whether he wants to be now. When asked if he still has the players’ support on Wednesday, Zidane said: “I think you have to ask them. We have done good things this season apart from the last four games. Now we have La Liga and the Champions League and we have to work.
“You have to ask her if my message gets through, I can’t answer that.”
Zidane was never a coach who imposed a clear identity. Its numerous successes, in part, raised suspicions that they came out of nowhere, with no crescendo to give them more credibility.
But they were always built on solid defense, dependable core, and a relentless will to win, which meant close games turned into close wins and periods of pressure provoked a reaction.
Zidane needs one more reaction now, starting in Mendizorrotza against Alaves on Saturday when Madrid won the Clasico at Camp Nou in October and recorded six wins in December, each time after scrutinizing their manager’s position.
The difference this time around is not just the extent of failure against Alcoyano, who hasn’t played in the top division in half a century, but also that Zidane has been accused of ignoring the future.
His trust in a selected core was underlined by the poor performances of fringe players like Isco, Marcelo and Eder Militao, who lacked sharpness and perhaps motivation.
Possibly worse for the club’s senior players were the fights of Vinicius Junior, Fede Valverde and Alvaro Odriozola, who once circled as players who could be part of a new era.
And what about those who are not there? Luka Jovic was loaned to Eintracht Frankfurt and scored two goals in 28 minutes.
Or Martin Odegaard, who was called back prematurely from his loan at Real Sociedad to look for another exit this month. Sergio Reguilon is with Tottenham, Dani Ceballos with Arsenal.
Zidane slowed down the transition, perhaps because Real Madrid beat Barcelona last season because he relied on the old guard.
And when Zidane requested a change in the summer of 2019, his first transfer window after his return, it was the club that failed to deliver.
Eden Hazard, Jovic, Ferland Mendy, Militao and Rodrygo were signed for around 300 million euros, but only Mendy as left-back has consistently improved the first team. Zidane’s priorities like Paul Pogba have been overlooked.
Nobody could have predicted that these arrivals would have to last two seasons for Real Madrid. The pandemic that financially strangled the club means there were no signings last year.
However, their ineffectiveness has been disclosed, and the price of not updating is becoming increasingly expensive.
Zidane has always been trusted to take Madrid out of the chaos but never build anything new. When they won the title last season it was taped across the cracks, testament to his ability to manage and motivate, but the need for renewal remained.
Zidane wanted to change something to come back. The change the club are thinking about now is their coach.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Levante v Real Sociedad (2100)
Huesca versus Villarreal (1400), Sevilla versus Cadiz (1615), Real Sociedad versus Real Betis (1830), Alaves versus Real Madrid (2100)
Osasuna versus Granada (1400), Elche versus Barcelona (1615), Celta Vigo versus Eibar (1830), Atletico Madrid (2100)
Athletic Club versus Getafe