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Football Reporting


Real Madrid players, directors back under-pressure Zidane

Zinedine Zidane has the backing of Real Madrid‘s board and players, sources have told ESPN, but the coach’s future could be determined by the team’s next three, crucial games against Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach and Atletico Madrid.

A 2-0 Champions League group stage defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday had led to speculation that Zidane could be sacked, but multiple club sources have told ESPN that “there is no debate around the manager.”

Those same sources, however, admitted that there is unhappiness at senior level with Zidane’s apparent lack of faith in the squad’s youngsters, and his management of players such as Martin Odegaard and, above all, Vinicius Junior.

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The club have high hopes for the Brazil international, 20, and there is a feeling that Zidane does not share that confidence.

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Vinicius started Real Madrid’s last four games against Villarreal, Inter Milan, Alaves and Shakhtar — of which the team only won one — on the bench.

Sources have told ESPN the club are not planning to fire a coach who “has given everything” to them and won La Liga just over four months ago.

At the same time, they could not guarantee that Zidane would want to continue if the team suffer another setback against Sevilla on Saturday and are knocked out of the Champions League next week.

“No. Not at all. I won’t resign,” Zidane insisted in his post-match news conference on Tuesday. “We’ll keep going.”

Madrid’s European future is in their own hands after Inter beat Monchengladbach 3-2 in Tuesday’s other group B match.

A win against the Germans next Wednesday, or possibly a draw, depending on the other result, would see Madrid through to the round of 16.

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Otherwise, they could find themselves in a situation by the end of next week in which they are effectively out of the title race — they are already seven points off top spot — and out of the Champions League.

A change of coach, and especially the hiring of an expensive replacement such as Mauricio Pochettino, would also be challenging from a financial point of view at a time when Madrid are struggling to cope with losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The board met on Wednesday to approve this year’s tighter-than-ever budget.

Sources close to the Real Madrid dressing room have told ESPN that support for Zidane remained at “similar” levels to what it had been in the past.

Unlike the board, the players understand the coach’s reluctance to gamble by picking young players over more established alternatives.

There is an acceptance that the team need a goalscorer, something which dressing room figures have acknowledged since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Those players wanted a striker to be signed last summer, when the club decided not to spend to strengthen the squad for the first time in decades.

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There is also a recognition of a lack of consistency, with sources pointing to bad luck with injuries to key players such as Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard, and the lack of a proper preseason.

Zidane faced equivalent pressure in October, when the team suffered back-to-back defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk, only to bounce back with a convincing 3-1 win over Barcelona in El Clasico.

A similar reaction will be required over the next week, with the match against Monchengladbach being of particular importance.

Madrid have never been knocked out in the Champions League group stage and elimination would be viewed as an embarrassment for a club whose identity is so associated with success in the competition.

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