If it wasn’t already clear, Wednesday’s defeat to Espanyol showed Real Madrid’s focus is now fully on the Champions League and their tie with Paris-Saint Germain. Zinedine Zidane rested key players for the domestic clash, however once again his rotational players let him down.
Since the first leg victory over the French club, Real Madrid have been riding the crest of a wave of a good run of form. They looked to have put their domestic issues behind them and results had picked up.
Winning the domestic title for the second year running was never going to be possible, Barcelona are simply too far ahead, however there was hope that Zidane could guide his charges to a comfortable top three finish, results like Wednesday’s will not help that endeavour.
A trophyless season at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is not an acceptable return, irrespective of the success the former Bordeaux midfielder has achieved previously. The only way he can save the season is to lift the Champions League trophy once again.
Losing players of the calibre of James Rodriguez, Alvaro Morata and Pepe was always going to have a knock-on effect on the squad. The players in reserve are not at the same level, as such when Zidane brings them into the starting line-up the level of performance drops.
Los Blancos are 14 points off Barcelona and the league leaders have a game in hand, it hasn’t been a good title defence for the Spanish giants. Being drawn with PSG seemed like a death knell to the Frenchman’s time in charge.
Nobody expected Real Madrid to come through the tie, yet they emerged from the first leg with a 3-1 lead, a result that has left a sour taste in the mouths of those in charge at the Parc des Princes.
Further encouragement has come in the wake of Neymar’s injury, the Brazilian will certainly miss the return leg through an injury and Kylian Mbappe also faces a race against time to be fit.
Having previously been eliminated from the Copa del Rey, Real Madrid now only have the Champions League to play for. There is no other avenue of success for them this term.
All within Valdebebas are focused on this now, every single domestic match is a test to see which system works, or which combination of personnel could be successful in the French capital.
Toni Kroos and Marcelo are both doubts for Paris, the pair have picked up injuries and are working hard to return in time. Zidane is trying Mateo Kovacic out in midfield in the meantime should he be needed in France.
At their best there are very few teams that can match Real Madrid, however we have hardly seen them at that level since the UEFA Super Cup against Manchester United in August. Whilst they played well in the first leg against Unai Emery’s charges, it was by no means a flawless display.
The visitors could have scored more goals and it was only Zidane gambling by bringing on Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez that helped them past their opponents.
Whether or not they will be good enough to win the competition is yet to be seen, however it’s all they have left to go for.
There is so much respect for Zidane in the Spanish capital, they don’t want the magical journey the team has been on in recent years to come to an end because of a bad season, yet that’s the reality of life at the club. Everybody knows what they are signing up for.
Real Madrid’s performance against Espanyol was not that of a team who has given up, it was merely that of an experimental team who know they have no chance of defending their domestic crown.
Raul called for committed performance until the end of the season on Monday, but it’s impossible for the team not to prioritise the European Cup.
The English teams will push them all the way provided they get past PSG, there could be potentially interesting ties down the line this term, however the pursuit of success in Europe has become all consuming at Valdebebas now and you can expect league results to continue to be inconsistent as a result.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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