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23rd Dec 2017

Zinedine Zidane should be worried for his job after Clásico defeat

There is no margin for error at this level

Reuben Pinder

There is no margin for error at this level.

Real Madrid did not kick off the festive season in the way they had hoped, as they lost a third consecutive home Clásico in the league, with Barcelona running riot on the counter attack and winning comfortably 3-0. The defeat leaves Los Blancos trailing Barça by 14 points.

Madrid have never closed a gap this big between them and Barcelona before, and it seems the title race is now all but over in Spain (as well as Germany, France and England.)

There can only ever be one winner, but Real Madrid are the most demanding club in the world and a 2nd place finish is often the final nail in the coffin for most Madrid managers. Carlo Ancelotti was axed after not winning the league or the cup in the 2014/15 season, despite securing the elusive Decima the season before.

Rafa Benítez suffered the same fate after just a few months in charge after losing a Clásico at home – although internal political tension brewing over team selection led to Benítez trapped in a catch 22 situation from which he could not emerge still with a job.

Zinedine Zidane has enjoyed a lot of success at Real Madrid, winning back to back Champions Leagues, a league title, a Spanish Supercopa, two UEFA Super Cups and two Club World Cups. Not bad, by anyone’s standards. And he played his part in making Madrid the first team to successfully defend the Champions League, but that counts for nothing if you stop delivering at Real Madrid. One feels that if he were not Zizou, he would be under a lot more pressure.

Real Madrid possess possibly the best, most balanced squad in world football, with no weak links and plenty of options to play different ways. Being fourth and 14 points behind their most historic rivals at Christmas is not good enough.

Florentino Perez’s patience with Zidane will surely be running low now, even if he is Zizou, the most iconic Galactico of the noughties era. In many ways, the current Real Madrid side is reflective of the side Zidane played in; an expensively acquired team of talented players, who are less than the sum of their parts when playing together.

With all the attacking, creative talent in the Madrid side, when they struggle to break teams down, they resort to getting it wide to Marcelo and Carvajal and aiming crosses at Ronaldo far too often. It’s sort of understandable when you have a player as powerful in the air as Cristiano, but it is a predictable tactic which defences have become accustomed to defending against.

During their period of seemingly winning a new trophy every other week, when Madrid players were asked what it was about Zidane that made them so good, and none of them could really pinpoint any factor. He was a motivator, and he could manage a dressing room full of egos. Being Zizou helps with that; his name and presence commands respect. While these are important traits for a Madrid manager, they’re not enough. If you’re not tactically astute, you will get found out eventually. Zidane is not exactly clueless, but his shortcomings are becoming more visible.

Saturday’s Clásico was a tense affair with few chances until Barça eventually found space to exploit on the counter-attack, which opened the game up after a first half of midfield congestion, as both teams fielded four central midfielders. Madrid had no solution, and once Carvajal was sent off, they couldn’t even rely on his overlaps to create chances.

Madrid have often relied on moments of individual genius and a deep squad which was thinned out over the summer to win matches by fine margins. Zidane’s management and rotation of that deep last season enabled them to win the double, but without Álvaro Morata and James Rodriguez on the bench, he has fewer weapons in his arsenal to call upon.

That’s not entirely his fault, but he seems reluctant to use the likes of Dani Ceballos and Marcos Llorente in rotation in midfield, and he still has Marco Asensio, Isco, Gareth Bale and Lucas Vazquez to rotate in the supporting roles.

Four draws and three losses in the league by Christmas is well below par for the team who were meant to be only starting an era of dominance. Consider too, that Barcelona were supposed to be in crisis and they are top, unbeaten, with Neymar’s replacement injured, an ageing Iniesta and a misfiring Suarez for a lot of the season who has only just rediscovered where the goal is.

Perez rarely hesitates before dismissing a coach he deems to be failing.

Although, the fact that he has hired and fired most coaches in the top bracket of football, who else could they hire? The lack of options could buy Zidane more time in the job than he would otherwise have been afforded, but come the end of the season, or even earlier should they lose to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, he should be worried.