Don’t let the narrative coming out of the Santiago Bernabeu fool you. Real Madrid are in crisis.
Yes, it’s the end of the season with nothing to play for and yes, the Los Blancos starting XI in their first game of next season could look markedly different from the one Zinedine Zidane selected against Real Sociedad.
However, when you’re languishing 18 points behind your fiercest rivals – and with one more game to play – clearly there’s much to digest and sort out.
Should that gap not be shortened in the final match of the season, Barcelona will have set a new record in terms of the distance they finish ahead of Real, after the 17-point gap last season, a record at the time.
Against Real Sociedad at the Anoeta Stadium, Zidane’s troops were toothless.
The Frenchman didn’t even have the excuse of playing a weakened XI with all of Carvajal, Marcelo, Kroos, Casemiro, Benzema and ‘the world’s best player’ Luka Modric in situ.
The three goals conceded were regrettable, but the day could’ve been even worse for Los Blancos with Willian Jose missing a penalty, and Adnan Januzaj only finding the crossbar when well placed.
It was Real’s eleventh defeat of the campaign. ELEVEN!
Most of the post-match questions from the media were centred around the omission of Gareth Bale for the second weekend in a row, but Zidane’s response was unequivocal.
“It’s clear what I’ve done after this weekend,” he said to reporters, the inference being that the Welshman’s time is finally up in Madrid.
Including Brahim Diaz in the starting XI paid dividends when the youngster scored a wonderful solo goal, and with Vinicius Junior being handed a late cameo, it would suggest that Zidane will be looking towards a mixture of youth and experience in 2019/20.
Rumours surrounding Eden Hazard, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe continue to swirl around, but had Zidane been at Old Trafford, he’d surely think twice about spending north of €150m to acquire countryman Pogba.
And another ‘Galactico’ era is no guarantee of success either.
Real are very much a team in transition whilst Barca are miles ahead in terms of their project, despite an unexpected Champions League exit.
It’s abundantly clear that Florentino Perez wants to throw money at the problem, and a root and branch clear out isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. It might even be what’s needed to shake up a squad who’ve become far too comfortable after their Champions League successes.
The pressure is certainly on Zidane to deliver next season, but the truth is they’re nothing close to the squad he took to success just 12 months ago.
How quickly things can change…