Can the UEFA Champions League save Zinedine Zidane?
The league has been lost for Real Madrid, but can they put up a fight for the Champions League? More importantly, will it be enough?
Real Madrid played out a 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo at the Estadio Balaidos in La Liga Santander last night, their first game in the new year, further cementing their hopes of not being able to retain the league title they secured with much work last season.
The last time they played at the Balaidos, they were on their way to the title, sauntering into town as they pummelled the unlucky Galicians in a 4-1 victory. The game was played with the confidence, verve and swagger that was so prominent in their run to the title last season.
However, the tides have turned, Real Madrid have returned to their league woes, becoming perennial also-rans in the title race. The draw left the Madrid club 16 points behind league-leaders and arch-rivals, Barcelona - a predicament not what many predicted when the season began.
They played without the usual style most have come to expect of a Los Blancos side, and with the title all but gone (it had been lost before kick off at Galicia), Madrid's attention must now turn and be fully focused on the UEFA Champions League.
Is the Champions League Zidane's only chance at redemption?
Real Madrid won the last 2 editions of the tournament under the stewardship of Zinedine Zidane and as it's a tournament they have historically thrived in, it was duly fitting that they became the first club to retain it since the new format was employed in 1992.
The tournament is the lone beacon of light for Zidane this season if he has any hopes of ending the season with a major trophy.
For Real Madrid, a season without a trophy is synonymous with the manager getting the boot. Florentino Perez is a very hard and demanding taskmaster, and it's just as easy to get on his good side as it's easy to get on his other side.
Zidane has won trophy after trophy in his 2-year spell and getting himself more time on the job will rely on his ability to bring in more trophies. The moment they don't roll in, his head rolls out.
For better parts of the La Liga season, the players have looked down on motivation, unable to finish chances, very suspect defensively and generally playing below par. The reverse is the case in the UEFA Champions League: they're getting goals in, playing with confidence, and even though they lost against Spurs, there's the general consensus that they played well.
This anomaly is depicted and judged based on the goal tallies of one man, Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored a whopping 9 goals in the Champions League and a paltry 4 goals in the league.
It certainly will be an uphill challenge
It's inconceivable, but a way in which this drop in the league can be explained is due to the fact that the players have seemingly wrapped their heads around the idea that they're not going to be champions of Spain anymore - they've become lackadaisical and are now just going through the gears.
They do know, however, that the UEFA Champions League is still worth playing for, and so can still back themselves to do it. Nevertheless, turning from Hyde in the La Liga to Jekyll in the Champions League is easier said than done, it's not a switch they can just flick.
It's how well they've been playing in the preceding weeks that'll give clues as to how they'll take on the challenge facing them, by the time the knockout rounds come around.
The draw handed to Real Madrid in the round of 16s could not be any tougher if it had been handpicked by any rival who wanted them eliminated as early as possible - the tie is one that has been making waves since the pairing was done.
Real Madrid vs Paris Saint-Germain. It's a blockbuster tie but in it, lies the best shot at redeeming what increasingly looks like a season gone by, but the ultimate question posed to Los Blancos is: Can Zidane’s charges pull it off and render him third-time lucky?
If Real Madrid go on to lift the UEFA Champions League title, we might just see Zidane around next season. If they don't, there's not much that can save the Frenchman his neck, and his job.
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