With half the season behind us in the Spanish league, it is absolutely clear that Real Madrid are in trouble. Two years ago, they sacked Rafa Benitez after 17 league matches, when they were ranked third with 36 points and 45 goals scored. This time around, with the man who replaced Benitez, Zinadine Zidane, on the sidelines, they were ranked fourth after 17 matches with 32 points and only 32 goals in favor, worse than Benitez in both parameters.
Does this mean Zidane’s job is on the line? Probably not, or at least not yet. He was a big symbol at the Bernabeu as a player, and it only grew stronger after he led the club to two Champions League trophies. Zidane knows very well that his big test will come next month when Real Madrid face PSG in the biggest clash of the Champions League round of 16. His immortal status in Madrid may not help him much if they will step out of European competition in early March.
In order to avoid that and come in the best possible shape for the double header with Neymar and co, Zidane needs to work on some of the problems that have surfaced in the first half of the Spanish season.
The most worrying aspect seems to be their level of intensity as the game progresses. Last season Real Madrid was able to win games in their late stages, but this season, the last minutes of each game is where they drop points. Just take the latest home game against Villareal as an example: the visiting team scored the winner 3 minutes from time. A week earlier in Vigo, Celta scored the equalizer in the 82nd minute, sending the Merenges back home with a disappointing draw. In fact, after 18 matches played, Real Madrid conceded 11 goals in the second half of its La Liga matches, while scoring only nine.
Why is this happening? There may be many reasons, at the end of the day it is probably fatigue more than anything else. Success comes with a price. Real Madrid played more matches than any other club in a major league for the past two seasons, since they went all the way in the Champions League and played twice in a row in the Club World Championship. With the players in Madrid being some of the best in the world, they obviously also join their national teams, meaning a regular starter for Real Madrid played 65+ games for the past two years. It may be too much.
The answer to that has to come in the form of transfers, bringing fresh blood to the team. But Real Madrid were far from active in the summer transfer period and it has not been any different so far in the January transfer window. Though we could understand the will to rely on the successful squad of the past, it’s proven wrong so far, especially when you see what is happening with their biggest nemesis from Barcelona, who spent more than $350 million on two players in the past six months and are comfortably cruising to the title.
Real Madrid will surely be very active when it comes to transfers next summer, but they may find it to be too late. They are currently ranked fourth in the league, which still leads to the Champions League next season. But after 18 matches, Villareal, fifth in the standings, is just one point behind. Fifth place would mean the Europa League next season, and with all due respect, no one in the club wants to play there and spend a season out of the Champions League.
If they fall to fifth place, or even sixth, and at the same time fail to get past PSG in the Champions League, Zidane may find out that even a mega symbol such as himself can be sacked in mid season.