1st April 2016. By Karl Matchett.
Third in La Liga, not among the front-runners for the UEFA Champions League and dismissed from the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player-all told, 2015-16 won't go down as one of the more memorable campaigns in Real Madrid's history.
The issues have been vast and varied throughout the season, from the bungled transfer deadline day approach for David de Gea, through to hiring and firing Rafa Benitez, appointing a rookie boss in Zinedine Zidane and with a whole host of issues on the playing squad side of the club.
One final chance-other than an unexpected path to the final and win in Europe-for redemption for the season comes in the shape of El Clasico this weekend, and an opportunity for some of Real Madrid's big players who have underperformed this term to suggest they still have a lot to offer going forward. If they can cope with and defeat Barcelona, then perhaps they should be trusted into next term, too.
Some seem to have little chance of playing a big part, never mind a decisive one.
Zidane's starting XI will reveal much of his mindset toward the squad at present, not only with the players picked but also those left out. Isco and James Rodriguez are the two most high-profile names who have been under pressure to perform and lacking professionalism off the pitch to an extent, but not the only ones. Danilo's presence in the team is continually debated, while the centre-backs have all been in fluctuating form at best this season. Fitness and availability, rather than actually playing well enough to not be considered droppable, has been the determining factor for the different pairings so far.
There could well be a huge turnover of players at the Santiago Bernabeu this coming summer. Too many of the squad members haven't contributed, too many of the stars have spent time sidelined or out of form. Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, Dani Carvajal: all have, at different times of the season, seen their names linked with moves away.
That said...it could all be rather different come the end of the weekend if Real Madrid walk away from the Camp Nou with their dignity intact and the points in the bag.
If the front three-BBC, rather than MSN-perform in tandem and create chances for each other, work as a unit as their rivals tend to and bring the consistency and clinical edge in front of goal required to seal a win, then rest assured that both crowd and club president will be dreaming of season-long glory with them in the team next term. It is still Real Madrid though, so even If Keylor Navas saves a penalty, gets man of the match and denies Leo Messi one-on-one on multiple occasions, there's still no guarantee he won't be offloaded in favour of David de Gea.
Real Madrid are a huge club, arguably the biggest on the planet all things considered, but they are also something of a shambles in the way they are run, with a lack of direction and consistency in decision making. They tend to fluctuate between believing they're on the path to success, and need a complete overhaul, on an almost month-to-month basis depending on results and headlines.
What they really need is a consistent manner of playing, a tactical framework to sign new players under and a head coach who has a semblance of control and authority over the squad he is supposed to lead. None of that can come out of a single game in isolation, but if Zidane is able to take a positive result, the respect he is afforded will certainly be improved.
The opposite also holds true though. A big defeat, a second one of the season against the team they are nowhere near catching, would surely force Real into believing wholesale changes are required.
Like international tournaments, single games in isolation should never be taken as a measurement tool over whether to buy or sell players-but when the game is big enough, as El Clasico is, perhaps it might just act as the shot in the arm Real Madrid require to realise how far away they are from competing with Barcelona.
El Clasico will shape Real Madrid's transfer plans for the summer
1st April 2016. By Karl Matchett.