Facing a third, and possibly most perilous, crisis in his second spell with Real Madrid, Los Blancos boss Zinedine Zidane would likely need his players to fight for the future of their celebrated coach this weekend as they are still reeling from the stinging shock of their humiliating loss to a third division Segunda B club in the Copa del Ray.
The 2-1 extra-time humiliating loss on Thursday to the third division, semi-professional side Alcoyano has been garishly painted city-wide in Madrid as one of the greatest embarrassments the club has ever endured. And this, too, coming in the wake of a 2-1 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana and left last year’s La Liga champions with just one win in their last five games in all competitions.
Zidane, only too well aware of the pressures that can be brought to be on one at Real, did his best to play down the Alcoyano defeat, insisting it should not be deemed an embarrassment, vowing his side would not lose their heads as a result of this humbling loss.
However the Spanish media didn’t share his sentiment and cautioned no restraint in lambasting the humiliating loss.
“No-one can escape this debacle,” said the front cover of newspaper Marca, while daily AS described it as a “disgrace”, adding Zidane’s status had been affected.
The French coach had found himself in a similar situation less than two months ago after shock defeats to Alaves and Shakhtar Donetsk, after which his players an amazing turnaround with a winning streak of five matches in the league.
The French supercoach also faced intense criticism in September 2019 following a massive defeat to Paris St Germain but managed to ride out the storm to finally guide the team to the Spanish title.
Zidane will now have to hope for another similar turnaround when his side visit Alaves in La Liga on Saturday, a match which has suddenly become a ‘must-win’ for the French maestro.
Although it would not be difficult to imagine second-placed Real rising again quickly to arrest the growing speculation on Zidane’s future at Los Blancos, the growing criticism of his squad management, especially his lack of faith in younger, less experienced players is greatly impacting his reputation.
Luka Jovic recently returned to Eintracht Frankfurt after a miserable 18 months under Zidane and in two games has scored as many goals as he did with Real, while Sergio Reguilon, Achraf Hakimi and James Rodriguez have also thrived since being let go.
Midfielder Martin Odegaard, meanwhile, is reported by Spanish media to be seeking a loan move due to scarce first-team opportunities under Zidane.
No one dares doubt that the coach’s strongest starting 11 can still beat anyone on their day but the gruelling calendar is clearly taking its toll on the regular heavyweights such as Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Sergio Ramos, who are ill-afforded the luxury of a rest from their demanding schedules.
“This season is looking very dark right now,” said former Real striker Fernando Morientes on Cadena Cope radio.
“Zidane cannot face the whole season with just 11 players.”