Betfair may have Manchester City as favourites for the Champions League title this season, but one team that won’t be in contention are Real Madrid. Last year’s winners were dumped out in spectacular fashion at the hands of Ajax earlier this month, following a humiliating 4-1 defeat at the Santiago Bernabéu (losing 5-3 on aggregate). It topped off what was a truly awful week for Los Blancos; however, truth be told, it’s not really been the best of seasons for them.
The week from hell
Football is a funny game, full of highs and lows – but Real Madrid certainly felt all the lows in just seven days when their hopes of silverware this season were completely diminished. The misery began on Wednesday 27 February when they were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by bitter rivals Barcelona, losing 3-0 on the night and 4-1 across both legs. A Luis Suárez goal either side of a Raphaël Varane own goal saw Madrid not make the cup final for fifth consecutive year.
Their chances of winning La Liga for the second time in three seasons took a further dent, losing to Barca on the following Saturday. It may have been a narrow defeat with Ivan Rakitić scoring the game’s only goal, but it’s another difficult loss for Madrid to take. In fact, the latest El Clásico win for Barcelona saw them overtake Madrid with the most wins in all competitions (96 to 95) for the first time in 83 years. This leaves Los Blancos 12 points behind their rivals, and five behind local rivals Atléti with games running out.
And the latest defeat to Ajax was the straw that broke the camel’s back – dumping Madrid out of the Champions League at the round of 16 for the first time since the
2009-10 season when they lost to Lyon (2-1 on aggregate). In recent years, their record in Europe’s biggest competition has been impeccable, winning the trophy four times and reaching the semi-finals on a further four occasions. As things stand in the domestic league, Madrid will qualify for Champions League football next season but the harsh reality is that change is needed.
It’s been made no secret that Real Madrid President, Florentino Perez wants Zidane back at Madid, and who can blame him. In the two-and-a-half seasons he was at the helm, Zidane won 104 of his 149 games in charge winning the Champions League three times in succession, as well as a La Liga title and a Supercopa. On paper, he was the second most successful Madrid manager, after Miguel Muñoz. But since Zidane’s shock departure in May last year, Los Blancos have been on the decline.
Zidane’s replacement Julen Lopetegui was sensationally sacked twice in four months: firstly, on the eve of the World Cup as Spain manager when he announced he would be joining Los Blancos and secondly, in October following a string of five defeats in seven matches, including a 5-1 thrashing from Barcelona. With six wins (and six losses) from 14 games, the writing was quite clearly on the wall. In a twist to the tale, it’s believed Lopetegui is taking the club to court after demanding the full three years of his contract be paid (that’s €28 million).
Santiago Solari was then appointed interim manager and although his win record is slightly better (with 21 wins from 31 games at current), he’s evidently not the man to take Madrid forward. Despite Perez saying he will not be relieved of his duties until the end of the season, in a shock twist earlier this week, Zizou returned back as manager of Los Blancos.
The Loss of Ronaldo
To a certain extent, perhaps, it’s not the fault of the manager/s – but the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo in Madrid’s squad is plain to see. The harsh reality is, Zidane most-likely decided to leave because he knew Ronaldo was going and wouldn’t be able to replace him. And let’s be honest, he’s irreplaceable. But it’s clear to see that the superstar carried the team, because since his departure, no-one has stepped up. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio have all disappointed; Isco has gone off the radar somewhat; while the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are aging and look a former shadow of themselves. The club bought Mariano Díaz (from Lyon) and Vinícius Júnior (Flamengo), and much expectation has been put on both – but the latter is only 18 and is now out for the season, following his injury against Ajax.
Crisis is a word often used in football, but there’s no doubt that Madrid are in the midst of one and who knows where they go from here.