Six months ago Zinedine Zidane was all smiles as he talked about being “very happy to be home” after returning as Real Madrid boss.
But the smile has long vanished following Real’s stuttering start to the season which has heightened the pressure on the Frenchman.
Having been held by Real Valladolid at the Bernabeu and at Villarreal in La Liga, Real crumbled to a 3-0 against Paris St-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Is Zidane – who appeared bulletproof after leading Real to three Champions League triumphs between 2016-2018 – on the brink? And just who will replace him should he go?
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- Is Zidane struggling second time around? – Guillem Balague column
Are Real losing patience?
Zidane’s win ratio is below 50% since returning to Spain’s capital towards the end of last season.
Real have won seven out of 16 La Liga and Champions League games in his second spell, drawing four and losing five.
“You start to check the temperature of the club,” Spanish football expert Guillem Balague told BBC Radio 5 Live Football Daily’s European show.
“You listen to the journalists close to Florentino Perez [Real Madrid’s president] and if they start having a go at Zidane, that means the door is open.”
French football expert Julien Laurens does not believe Zidane will resign – and that the France 1998 World Cup winner knows exactly what is needed to put things right.
“He believes there is light at the end of the tunnel,” added Laurens.
“He is not a man to give up or a man in denial. He knows the weaknesses of the squad. This midfield is not the midfield of a top club. He will have to find the right formula and right message.”
Will Zidane be in charge by Christmas?
Real do not mess around once they decide a change is needed in the dugout.
They waited until the end of October to sack Julen Lopetegui last season. The former Spain boss was in charge for four and a half months.
Lopetegui’s replacement, Santiago Solari, was sacked after less than five months in charge – paving the way for Zidane’s return in March.
“If he is as lucky as he has been through his career, he will probably last until the end of the season,” added Ballague.
“But the dynamic in the team is so poor even the return of Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Luka Modric will not be enough for him to be there at Christmas.”
Belgian football journalist Kristof Terreur does not hold out much hope for Zidane.
“What does he add to this team? What’s his philosophy? When Real won the Champions League, it’s still a mystery how they did that,” Terreur said.
Mourinho to replace Zidane?
Jose Mourinho is being strongly linked to return to the Bernabeu should Zidane get the sack.
The former Chelsea boss, who left Real in 2013 after three years in charge, is available after losing his job at Manchester United in December 2018.
“I expect Jose to be at the wheel in November,” added Terreur.
“Real Madrid may need a guy like Mourinho who kicks backsides a bit. They need a strong manager and some discipline might help them.”
Ballague added: “We all know Mourinho is waiting.”
What went wrong against PSG?
Real made a disastrous start to their Champions League campaign on Wednesday, Angel di Maria scoring twice against former employers to propel PSG to a comfortable win.
Thomas Meunier’s stoppage-time goal added more embarrassment for the Spanish giants.
So what went wrong for Zidane and his players?
“He didn’t prepare the team well enough to play PSG and that is very damning,” added Ballague.
“The defence was very deep and there were gaps everywhere – he couldn’t correct that. As a coach he failed again.
“They play Sevilla on Sunday and Atletico Madrid at the end of September. The next four or five games will give you a measure of how far he can go with this team.”
Laurens said Real looked lost from start to finish in Paris.
“They could hardly make three passes, in midfield they were out-played out-smarted, out-everything.”
Terreur added: “If I see Real Madrid playing, it reminds me of Marc Wilmots’ early days in charge of Belgium where there was no plan at all.”