Premier League Matchday 35: Tricky Away Trip For Manchester United
Though he’ll be trotting out the same old lines as usual in press conferences, Santiago Solari will know that unless he wins the Champions League for Real Madrid this season, he’s a dead man walking.
In the space of 72 hours, Barcelona ripped their domestic dreams to shreds.
Not content with dumping them out of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, the Catalans’ slender 0-1 victory on Saturday has all but ruled Los Blancos out of the La Liga title race for another season.
The scoreboard in both of those matches didn’t really reflect the action on the pitch either. On Wednesday, Real were the better side for long periods but couldn’t take their opportunities, and on Saturday, it was Barca that missed a hatful of presentable chances.
No matter. One goal or three, the end result was the same, and with those two victories Barcelona now move ahead in the all-time head-to-head standings for the first time in 87 years – 96 wins to Real’s 95.
Solari had slightly changed things around for the second visit from Ernesto Valverde’s side, installing Gareth Bale into the starting line-up, but it was a poor performance from the Welshman who was whistled and booed off by what seemed like the entire Santiago Bernabeu when he was subbed in the second half.
To that end, there was an impotence to Real’s attacking down their right side, meaning that Vinicius on the opposite flank was heavily involved once more.
Unfortunately for the youngster, his aim was off for the second game in succession, but at the very least he showed the desire and hunger that was evidently missing from the Welshman’s game.
The hosts didn’t stop coming forward throughout the match, Solari urging them on time and again, but there was little variation from the Real coach in terms of tactical switches and nous. It was all just a little too predictable.
Any gilt-edged chances for Los Blancos seemed to be of Barca’s own making too, and even the additions of Fede Valverde, Marco Asensio and Isco did nothing for Real’s cause.
With Sergio Ramos lucky to stay on the pitch after a clear elbow on Lionel Messi, Solari did at least still have his captain out there to motivate the side, but the ease with which he and his defensive colleagues were beaten for pace, particularly in the second half, will have given the coach more food for thought.
Ramos will be missing when Ajax arrive in the capital on Tuesday for their Champions League Round of 16 second leg tie, and the Dutchmen have won all three since the last meeting, scoring 13 in those three games.
Without a game this weekend, they’ll also come into the match much fresher than their Spanish counterparts who seemed to be running on empty by the end of Saturday’s game.
Solari will need a miracle to hang on to his job now in any event, but a fourth home loss in a row, and the third inside a week would almost certainly see Florentino Perez actively scouring the market for a replacement.
Mauricio Pochettino continues to be coy when asked about the possibility of a move to the Spanish capital.
With Tottenham again blowing the chance to put pressure on the top two in the Premier League and ending the weekend just three points ahead of a rejuvenated Manchester United, the Argentinian may feel the time is now right to hand the reins to someone else and begin a new project at the Bernabeu.
Don’t rule out a return for Jose Mourinho either.
Out of work but not out of the limelight, the Portuguese was working as a pundit over the weekend and his carefully chosen words suggest that he wouldn’t be averse to a reunion.
Next Real Madrid Manager Odds:
Jose Mourinho 2/1
Mauricio Pochettino 3/1
Zinedine Zidane 6/1
Massimiliano Allegri 10/1
Joachim Low 12/1