MADRID (AFP) – Real Madrid have 12 games left to salvage some pride and perhaps save Santiago Solari his job.
Although it is hard to imagine even the very best of run-ins allowing the Argentinian to remain as coach next season.
Something close to 12 wins could do it, but even that is unlikely to persuade Club President Florentino Perez to overlook a season that was over before the middle of March.
Besides, nothing Madrid have shown in recent weeks suggests they are set for a sprint-finish, still less a run that would make Barcelona nervous, the Catalans 12 points clear following their victory at the Santiago Bernabeu last weekend.
Atletico Madrid, five points in front, are more catchable, particularly if Diego Simeone’s side complete the job against Juventus next week and the Champions League – not to mention a final at their own Wanda Metropolitano – becomes the key focus.
“We are sad and hurt,” Solari said after the 4-1 defeat to Ajax on Tuesday. “But the season continues. It’s true the gap in the league is very big but we have to stand up. Madrid always come back.”
Just as finishing third in La Liga last season mattered little once Real were crowned European champions, snatching second after a miserable exit in the last 16 would certainly not make amends.
Instead, Solari’s beleaguered side face a struggling Real Valladolid today (Monday 3.45am Brunei time), looking for a victory to suggest their seven-day crisis will not give way to a three-month collapse.
Eight points should be enough to avoid dropping into a race for the top four, particularly given those closest are Getafe and Alaves, each enjoying remarkable seasons but perhaps unlikely to storm down the home straight.
Which leaves the best part of 11 weeks for Madrid’s players to convince the club of their own futures, as well as the future of their coach.
Regardless of what happens to Solari, this is the kind of season that prompts a rethink, and perhaps a revamp of the squad in the summer, with a handful of older players particularly under scrutiny.
Gareth Bale, Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Karim Benzema have all under-performed to varying degrees in recent weeks.
“We’ve all failed to find our best level this season,” said Kroos on Tuesday. “I’m the first to admit that.”
“We could have done so much more,” said Nacho.
Conversely, Luka Modric, heavily linked with a move to Italy last summer, may feel it is time for a fresh start while there is little chance of Solari allowing Isco to prove his worth, although the Spaniard’s prospects would transform as soon as a new coach came in.
While Real Madrid are in the unusual position of focussing solely now on La Liga, Barcelona and Atletico will keep one eye on their own Champions League ties this weekend.
Atletico host Leganes before taking a 2-0 lead over Juventus to Turin on Tuesday. Barca are at home to Rayo Vallecano, with a return against Lyon to come on Wednesday, following a goalless opening leg.
Barca were worryingly open in their Copa del Rey defeat of Real last week but much tighter in the league victory last Saturday, when a controlled 1-0 win showed the kind of nous they might well need in Europe.
“We were much better in the match,” Ernesto Valverde said. “The other day we won 3-0 but lacked control. This time we dominated the ball and when the chances came, we were ruthless.”