Is Zidane losing his magic touch?

Richard Hazeldine Richard Hazeldine

It has been one long victory procession for Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid since taking over from Rafael Benitez in January last year.

In just 20 months, Zidane has led Los Blancos to consecutive Champions League wins, two UEFA Super Cups, last year’s La Liga title, the Spanish Super Cup and the club World Cup.

Zidane, it seemed, could do no wrong.

Until now!

Madrid have started the new season well below par. They are currently in sixth position in La Liga and already seven points behind Barcelona after just six games. The champions have made their worst start to a season at home in 21 years after failing to win any of their opening three matches at the Bernabeu.

Their last home game saw them go down 1-0 to Real Betis, ending their incredible run of scoring in 73 consecutive games, while last weekend they struggled to a 2-1 win at bottom Alaves.

So what has gone wrong?

Despite the poor results, Madrid are still creating chances. Against Betis they had several clear-cut opportunities, but they failed to convert any before the visitors scored a last-gasp winner. It’s been a similar story in their other games.

Observers will point to the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo during the poor spell, but others will say that a team like Madrid should have the resources to cope without one player – no matter how influential he is.

This has also raised questions about Madrid’s summer transfer activity, letting Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez leave without recruiting adequate replacements now looks unwise.

Madrid’s notoriously impatient fans are not making things easier, with the crowd beginning to get on the players’ backs following their poor start to the campaign.

This could explain why all their league wins this season have come away from home.

Even Zidane’s much lauded tactical nous has come under fire in recent games, with the Spanish press criticising his team selections and substitutions.

In response, Zizou has urged his players to use the criticism as motivation to perform better, but the negativity seems to be having an effect.

Things will not be any easier on Tuesday night when Zidane’s take on an in-form Borussia Dortmund side in Germany.

Dortmund have started the domestic season in spectacular form, scoring a hatful of goals while setting defensive records to sit top of the Bundesliga – a complete contrast to Madrid’s domestic woes.

Adding to the gloom is the fact that Madrid have failed to win any of their six previous visits to the Westfalenstadion, drawing three and losing three.

Zidane has said he will try to use that record to inspire his players, and if ever he needed his motivational skills to payoff, then this is it.

Go by the form book and most neutrals would expect a Dortmund win, but given Madrid’s recent record in the competition, their squad, and the fact they are away from home, a win for the visitors is certainly not out of the question.

For an under fire Zidane, it would be a very welcome win indeed.