Haven’t we been here before in Madrid? Wasn’t it about 12 months ago when the pressure started to mount on Real Madrid coach Rafa Benitez, before he was sacked in early November? It’s too early to suggest anything like the same fate awaits for Zinedine Zidane, especially after he was in charge for Madrid’s Champions League win last summer, but this has been a tough couple of weeks for the French boss.
Real Madrid’s 1-1 home draw with Eibar was the club's fourth straight draw–the others were against Las Palmas, Villarreal and Borussia Dortmund–and left Madrid with 15 points after four wins and three draws from the first seven games of the season: an identical record to Benitez last year. Oh, and Benitez’s side had conceded five fewer goals.
Last season's Champions League success, not to mention his playing career in Madrid, will have bought Zidane a grace period, while there is also the fact that Luka Modric and Casemiro, Zidane’s go-to midfielders this season, have been missing through injury. Karim Benzema was withdrawn with a knock at halftime, and his replacement, Alvaro Morata was booked for diving and had a goal correctly disallowed for offside. Cristiano Ronaldo is not yet at full throttle and the team is yet to keep a clean sheet at the Bernabeu this season. There's room for improvement, but also explanation for the shortcomings.
“This is not a crisis," Zidane said after the game. "We're only in October so we can't go crazy, but yes something's going wrong when you have three consecutive draws in the league. We allowed the opposition to dictate things in the first half but we played a lot better in the second half, which is something we're saying far too often lately. I don't believe we were missing creativity … rather what we lacked was intensity and aggression.”
The result means that Atletico Madrid is now top of the table in La Liga, thanks to a 2-0 win at Valencia despite missing two penalties. In a surprising round of matches Sunday–and perhaps some consolation for Zidane–is that Celta Vigo beat Barcelona 4-3. The title race is still a three-way fight, but this season, as the big two teams become less reliant on the magic of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, the trophy is no longer dependent on results between the three sides playing each other.