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Champions League: Can Zinedine Zidane save his job at Real Madrid?

From BBC - February 12, 2018

Real Madrid were desperate. It was the last minute of added time and they needed an equaliser. This attack would be their last chance.

Luka Modric received possession around 30 yards from goal, in the centre of the pitch.

To his right, Lucas Vazquez was making an overlapping run and was unmarked, in a good position to deliver a dangerous cross.

Modric saw him and played the pass but he inexplicably hit it too hard, too far ahead of Vazquez, and the ball went straight out for a throw-in.

Seconds later, the final whistle blew and Real Madrid had been knocked out of the Copa del Rey. At home. By Leganes. After winning the first leg.

And although it was by no means decisive to the outcome, Modric's error can be seen as an encapsulation of their decline: here was one of the best passers in the world, unable to even make a simple short pass to an unmarked team-mate. It made no sense, just like their whole season has made no sense.

Zinedine Zidane is among those who can offer no explanation for his team's disintegration, and it is looking like he is running out of time to find a cure. If Real are knocked out of the Champions League by Paris St-Germain, there is little chance of him surviving into next season.

Could a manager who has won the Champions League in each of his two seasons in charge, as well as last season's La Liga, really be facing the sack?

Timeline of a crisis - six key games

Wednesday, 16 August: Real Madrid 2-0 Barcelona

As the new season gets under way, there is no indication of the impending crisis as Real cruise past Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup, winning 5-1 on aggregate, having also beaten Manchester United in the Uefa Super Cup.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique: "We must accept that Madrid are better than us. In the nine years I have been here, it's the first time I feel inferior to them."

Saturday, 9 September: Real Madrid 1-1 Levante

The first worrying signs come when Real are held to draws in their opening two home league games, first by Valencia and then by lowly Levante. But it is not seen as much cause for concern.

Zidane: "We are not happy with the performance but we have got time to fix things."

Wednesday, 20 September: Real Madrid 0-1 Real Betis

After scoring in 73 consecutive games - a sequence stretching back 17 months - Real's run stops with a home defeat by mid-table Real Betis. Zidane, though, is still calm.

Zidane: "Today was not our best game, football can be like that at times but we do not have to worry."

Sunday, 29 October: Girona 2-1 Real Madrid

This is getting serious. After suffering a shock loss to lowly top-flight debutants Girona, Zidane is starting to accept his team are struggling.

Zidane: "It's a bad time, but you have to accept it. We are an experienced team full of champions, and we are going to turn this around."

Saturday, 23 December: Real Madrid 0-3 Barcelona

After a second-half capitulation to arch rivals Barcelona, there are now major doubts over Zidane's future at the end of a year in which his team won five trophies.

Zidane: "We are down because it is a defeat that hurts. Tomorrow they are going to hammer me, that is football but it wo not change how I think or what I do."

Wednesday, 24 January: Real Madrid 1-2 Leganes

This could prove to be the final straw. Leganes - a small club on the outskirts of Madrid - are nicknamed Los Pepineros, 'The Cucumber Growers'. And the Spanish press is quick to dub this loss as Zidane's 'Pepinazo', referencing the cup exit against Alcorcon - 'Alcorconazo' - which contributed to Real's sacking of Manuel Pellegrini in 2010.

Zidane: "It's a fiasco. My worst moment as a coach. I am responsible for this, I am the boss. I have to find the solutions."

What has gone wrong?

Have Real got any chance against PSG?

What will happen to Zidane?

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