Real Madrid to stick by Zinedine Zidane despite being 14 points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona
Real Madrid will stick by Zinedine Zidane despite their title challenge not even lasting until 2018 and Saturday’s embarrassing 3-0 clásico defeat.
Sources at the Spanish club have told The Independent that there is “nothing to worry about” with regards to the Frenchman’s future even with the reigning European champions some 14 points off FC Barcelona’s pace in La Liga.
Second-half goals from Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Aleix Vidal crushed Madrid to leave them languishing in fourth place. But while the hosts had been the superior side in the first half and can claim some positives from the game, the scoreline was not a good look for a coach who made the bold call of leaving Isco, Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio on the bench.
The curious selection of Mateo Kovacic as a specialist man-marker was bold but ultimately backfired, with Messi dragging the midfielder out of position to allow Ivan Rakitic, another Croatian, to drive through the middle of the field and set up Barca’s opener from which the hosts would never recover.
Zidane was his own man, though. His predecessor Rafael Benitez once bowed to pressure from president Florentino Perez and played James Rodriguez over Casemiro in a Bernabeu clásico that ended in utter humiliation for Madrid. Zizou went with his instincts, but the gameplan did not work and he was ultimately exposed to criticism - something he was more than aware of.
"I know I'm going to get beaten up tomorrow [in the media] for the decision to start Kovacic ahead of Isco, but I'm never going to change. I'm here to make decisions, and if we'd scored in the first half, it would all have been different,” said Zidane in the post-match press conference.
"We are not playing badly, that's why it is even more painful.
"Football can change so quickly. Many people said they [Barcelona] were bad in pre-season, and now we will be labelled as bad tomorrow,” he added.
"This is football, we have to accept it. When you win, [people think] everything is wonderful and when you lose, everything is f***** up.”
Of course not everything is necessarily “f***** up” for Real Madrid, who last week were crowned World Club champions and find themselves in the knockout phase of the European Cup once again. Indeed, Zidane was the first coach to ever defend the Champions League and could legitimately lead them to a threepeat in Kiev this summer, making the thought of sacking him now utterly insane.
But if he doesn’t make it back-to-back-to-back continental wins then it is going to be a difficult off-season for him.
With Antonio Conte likely to be available at that point and Madrid almost certain to make a run at Mauricio Pochettino - who showed a great desire to ingratiate himself with the Madrid club’s correspondents in the recent Champions League ties against Tottenham - Zidane’s biggest fear should be the managerial ambition of some of his Champions League rivals.
For all the records Zidane has broken, at times it is him who sounds like a broken record. Players like his calmness and ability to empathise but sometimes those qualities fall flat when things go bad. 14 points behind Barca and fresh from a mauling in their own back yard, things certainly aren’t going great.
Zidane survives for now though. What he can do on the European stage will define for exactly how long that remains the case.