Before the season started, fans were musing over the fact that the era of Barcelona dominance had ended and Real Madrid were set to have a monopoly on Spanish football and the Champions League.

Now, at the time of writing, Barcelona are 19 points clear in La Liga while Real Madrid are fighting to qualify for the Champions League. What’s gone wrong?

There were a lot of question marks about Zinedine Zidane after he was named manager of Real Madrid. Was he good enough? Did he have enough experience? Was he ready to manage at the highest level in football? In his first two seasons Zidane has won 2 Champions League titles, as well as one La Liga title last year. This is an incredible success rate for a man in his first major managerial post.

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This season, however, has been a completely different story. It seems that the honeymoon is over and a dark cloud has been set over Real Madrid. Many fans are asking the simple question, why?

It all starts with Zidane’s tactics, he encourages his fullbacks to push high, being used more as attackers than defenders In order to whip in dangerous crosses to the box and allow his extremely talented attackers to benefit from the chaos created in what is deemed as the “mixer” or the penalty box. Last season, Casemiro was a revelation in the holding midfield spot, expertly screening the backline and allowing the fullbacks to push forward with confidence. Isco was performing at his peak, pulling the strings from the attacking midfield position, and Ronaldo was bagging goals from all over the attacking 3.

This season, the tactics are almost identical, but to much less celebration and success. It seems that they have been “found out” and teams have calculated the exact way to get at Real Madrid and stop their crossing game. Effectively marking their fullbacks out of the game, and the decreasing form of both Benzema and Ronaldo has contributed to a massive decrease in form for the Spanish champions.

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This has led to more defensive mistakes from Madrid as two of their back four are usually pushed high up the pitch and thus have to make long and arduous recovery runs that lead to heavy legs. Offensively, Benzema has had a dreadful season, no longer finding the back of the net or facilitating in build up play, a trait which Zidane consistently heaps praise upon him for.

As well, Ronaldo has not been in good form at all. Almost out of frustration he is attempting to make individual magic occur but cannot be relied upon in the same way he could in past seasons as he is starting to reach the twilights of his career at the age of 32.

Off the field decision making has led to this so called “crisis” as well. In the summer, Madrid let go of James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata, two fantastic attacking players with bright careers still ahead of them. Letting go of players is fine, as long as they are adequately replaced but that did not happen as well, as Madrid seemed to focus on locking down the future with bright young prospects not quite ready for first team football.

James would be able to fill in perfectly for a struggling Isco and is having a delightful season at Bayern Munich, and Morata is off to a good start at Chelsea and would be able to step in at center forward for Benzema.

Injuries have also been a major factor, Zidane’s squad has been decimated by injuries, leaving him with little variety to pick from in his starting line ups. The likes of Gareth Bale have been missed sorely, as when he is on the pitch, he is Madrid’s brightest player this season.

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All in all, the Champions League clash with PSG is the deciding factor for Zidane’s time at Madrid. With La Liga already seemingly a lost cause and the Copa de Ray no longer an option after having been knocked out by Leganes, a plucky underdog, the clash against PSG is a must win for Zidane if he wishes to continue at the Bernabeu. This clash of giants comes next week, and no matter how it goes, it is almost certain to produce scintillating football, and be a decisive bout for Real’s future this season.

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