Image from the Daily Mirror
Rewind six months to the summer, when Real Madrid lifted their third Champions League trophy in four years with a convincing 4-1 win over Juventus in Cardiff, a few weeks after winning their first La Liga title in five years. This campaign, however, has been nothing short of a nightmare for Los Blancos.
The defending Spanish league champions are currently sitting fourth in the division, a stunning nineteen points behind leaders Barcelona, with serious doubts as to whether they could even finish in the Champions League places, with in-form Villarreal and Sevilla, fifth and sixth respectively, hot on their tails. Their bid to defend their European crown in also under threat, with a tricky tie against the dominant Paris Saint-Germain in the last-16 round, after finishing second behind Tottenham Hotspur in the group stages. To make matters worse, an embarrassing elimination at the hands of Leganes in the Spanish Cup on Wednesday night has given Zinedine Zidane little hope of bringing a trophy to the Santiago Bernabeu this season.
Previous Madrid managers have been sacked for achieving twice as much in a single season, so is Zidane lucky to still be in a job? Or is his previous trophy record enough to be given time to improve his side? Here are our views on what has gone wrong for Madrid, and where they can go from here…
Too Much Trust in Teenagers
One area to look at is Real Madrid’s transfer dealings – or lack of transfer dealings. Zidane only decided to bring two players in – Theo Hernandez, 19, from Madrid rivals Atletico, and Dani Cellabos, 20, from Real Betis. These two additions, along with Achraf Hakimi’s promotion from the B team, and the returns of fringe youngsters such as Borja Mayoral, Jesus Vallejo and Marcos Llorente meant that all of Real’s summer arrivals were under the age of 23. As a result, Zidane failed to add to and improve his title winning squad over the summer, and have placed too much faith and pressure onto these youngsters. Meanwhile, bitter rivals Barcelona have managed to add significant talent to their squad, such as the previously-written-off midfielder Paulinho, wonderkid Ousmane Dembélé, the former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho. No wonder the Catalan side look more refreshed than Zidane’s side, who look surprisingly stale considering their recent focus on younger prospects. In fact, the departures of Alvaro Morata to Chelsea, James Rodriguez to Bayern Munich and Danilo to Manchester City means that Zidane has a weaker squad at his disposal compared to last season, so Real Madrid’s transfer policy, which is normally so prolific and proficient under the influence of Florentino Perez, is partly to blame.
No Change means Older Galacticos
The lack of successful transfer activity has meant that Madrid’s line-up and formation is roughly the same as last year’s, a 4-3-3 set-up with Sergio Ramos and Marcelo marshalling the defence, Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos in midfield, with the infamous ‘BBC’ (Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo) leading the line. This carbon-copy team has been too easy to defend against at times, and disappointing results such as the 3-0 El Clasico hammering before Xmas, and the 1-0 defeat at home to Villarreal has proven this. Barcelona, meanwhile, have been very adaptable over the course of the season, playing a 4-4-2 for most of the season with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez acting as a formidable front two, with Andres Iniesta and Sergi Roberto acting as left and right midfielders. Madrid are predictable, Barca are unpredictable, so there is no surprise that the former is in crisis, with the latter looking at multiple trophies this season.
Particular attention must also be paid towards the ages of Madrid’s star players, and if they have already passed the peaks of their careers. Karim Benzema is 30 years-old, but only has two league goals this campaign, and six in all competitions this season; fellow striker Suarez is a year older and has 15 league goals in 17 games. 2017 Ballon D’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo’s statistics are more surprising, as despite scoring nine goals in the Champions League groups stages this year, has only six league goals in 15 games. This shows that although Ronaldo has the talent, his motivation to steer Madrid to back-to-back league titles is at an all-time low. Perhaps, at the age of 32, the Portuguese captain no longer has the ability to compete on all fronts? If Madrid continue to falter in the league, but still manage to win a third successive Champions League trophy, then this very well might be the case. On top of this, captain Sergio Ramos, 31, is showing the game is catching up with him, receiving his second red card of the season in early December, while Luka Modric, 32, is struggling to be the creative fulcrum of the side that he has been in recent years. Even Gareth Bale, 28, is letting injury get the better of him, so where is the attacking strength of Madrid this season?
Where does this leave Zidane?
With regards to Zidane’s future, it’s important to consider how much he is to blame for Madrid’s disappointing season so far. In terms of Madrid’s transfer dealings, Zidane is clearly at fault. Before his appointment as first-team coach in January 2016, Madrid were a major force in the transfer market, singings players such as Bale, James and Kroos, but the Frenchman hasn’t followed suit, with his only high-profile big money purchase being the re-signing of Alvaro Morata in the summer of 2016, and the only major long-term change in the Madrid line-up under the Zidane regime is the rise of wonder-kid Marco Asensio. Los Blancos’ other youngsters, such as Mayoral and Vallejo, are yet to have the same effect, despite having a similar amount of game time. This is where Zidane could have managed his squad better.
However, the problems may run deeper than that with players such as Ronaldo and Benzema performing below-par this season. Perhaps these players are reaching the final stages of their careers, and Zidane may have to do a major reshuffle over the summer. However, given his transfer record, that seems unlikely, and, with the prospect of missing out on the Champions League next season looming over Real Madrid, perhaps Zidane has already run out of time.
What do you think? Are Madrid being generous by keeping Zidane in charge? Or does he deserve this extra time to try and rebuild this ageing squad? Let us know in the comments below.