Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has conceded he is under pressure following another unconvincing performance from his side in the Copa del Rey.
The Frenchman was slammed in the Spanish media following Wednesday's 2-2 draw with second-tier Numancia even if Real won the last-16 tie 5-2 on aggregate.
It came hot on the heels of a 3-0 loss at home to Barcelona and there was no let up in the criticism after Sunday's 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo in La Liga.
Real Madrid have slipped a remarkable 16 points behind Barcelona in La Liga and occupy the unfamiliar position of fourth in the standings, with their hopes of retaining the title long gone.
Zidane has signed a contract extension until 2020, but appears to be aware that will not save him if the poor run of form continues.
"I just go game to game, year to year," said Zidane.
"I cannot think two or three years down the line, as I know how it is here, even having a contract, which means nothing. "
"It is not easy for the players who play less. We played a good game. We maybe lacked a bit of gas at the end."
A place in next season's Champions League is also far from secure as sixth-placed Villarreal visit the capital on Saturday trailing the faltering Spanish and European champions by only four points.
Anything but three points against Villarreal, who secured a draw at the Bernabeu last season, would pile more pressure on Zidane despite his eight trophies in two years as Real coach.
The coach's declaration on Tuesday that he would not "throw anyone in the mud" has been taken as another sign that he is not strong enough to make the tough decisions his team need.
Zidane's unwillingness to shake things up can be traced to Real's limited activities in the last transfer window.
According to media reports, the club pulled out of a bid to sign French teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe to avoid upsetting Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, who have only mustered up 10 league goals between them this term.
Mbappe joined Paris Saint-Germain instead and Real weakened their attacking options by relinquishing James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata, who did not start most games last season but made invaluable contributions from the bench.
The only new arrivals were youngsters Theo Hernandez, Dani Ceballos and Diego Llorente, who have barely featured this season as Zidane's faith in the so-called 'B' team that did so well last season has faded.
So too has Real's form, and unless Zidane can whip his team into shape again, his time in charge could prove to be as short as it was successful.
ZidaneZinedine Zidane faces his biggest task as a coach to restore Real Madrid's fading form before Barcelona visit the Bernabeu, writes Desmond Kane.
Every so often, reality and an ill wind bites ferociously at Real Madrid, prompted largely by largesse and their own sense of pride. No coach or team in professional sport can go on winning mercilessly and majestically without giving due consideration to the wider world. Even when you are the world game's Galacticos.
Even if at times it feels like Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid’s European champions have been shrouded by some sort of mystical emollient that makes the sensation of failure feel as far from the Spanish capital as Rafael Benitez in Geordieland.
Zidane will mark two years in the Madrid job on January 4 since succeeding Benitez, a quite astonishing 24 months that has seen him become the first man to win the FIFA and Ballon d'Or awards as the world’s greatest coach and player.
Zidane has celebrated two Champions Leagues, two Club World Cups, two European Super Cups, La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup. This startling spell has even superseded his five years as a player at a club where he won the Champions League, Liga, European Super Cup and the old Intercontinental Cup in the early noughties.
But the management game in Madrid is as precarious as donning a Catalan flag in the Spanish capital: you are inviting trouble if you aren’t pleasing the locals. And how those locals need to have their senses soothed at the Bernabeu this Yuletide. An enduring summer of love has been followed by the onset of this harsh winter of discontent.
Zidane finds himself in a right old pickle before unbeaten league leaders Barcelona, who were filleted 5-1 over two legs of the Spanish Super Cup in August, arrive for their high noon meeting with Los Blancos on Saturday lunchtime. Played against the backdrop of Catalan local elections and the ongoing independence crisis enveloping Spain's politics, it is hardly a fixture that needs added trauma.
But there is an anxiety seeping out of Madrid, a team who have lost form more alarmingly than Devon Loch. Zidane confronts this business overseeing Madrid's worst run in the Spanish league in nine seasons. Who says managing excellence and egos was easy?
A win for the visitors would be akin to the moment Clint Eastwood's William Munny takes out Gene Hackman's Little Bill in the Unforgiven. In Liga, Real Madrid would be 14 points behind and dead men walking. To many Madridistas, it would be unforgivable.
Madrid are 11 points behind their bitter foes, and occupy an unthinkable fourth place in La Liga, five points behind Atletico Madrid and three adrift of Valencia.
If second is nowhere at Real Madrid, what does the sunken emblem of fourth place represent to such a starry club? Zidane knows the answer to this question as he was part of the last Real Madrid lot to limp home in fourth back in 2004.
Back then, Madrid enjoyed a cast of millions including David Beckham, Luis Figo, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, but were spectacular loss leaders.
They were throttled in their last five Liga matches to end the season behind Valencia, Barcelona and Deportivo La Coruna. It represented a historic, humiliating and costly failure. And saw coach Carlos Queiroz dismissed after only 10 months in the job.
Above and beyond the immediacy of Barca, comes Paris Saint-Germain, the world’s heaviest-spending club, in the Champions League last 16 on February 14, two legs laden with a heavy sense of foreboding about just where money can get you these days against the club who built their stock on purchasing it.
Past glory means little under Madrid president Florentino Perez, a man with a penchant for culling coaches as quickly as he gives votes of confidence. Zidane is the 11th coach in only 13 years. The French World Cup winner works for a bloke who sees himself as pivotal to the Madrid project as the players.
A manager who could no wrong suddenly looks like the novice he was when he was handed the Madrid job two years ago as a figure of risk and inexperience.
His task has hardly been helped by Cristiano Ronaldo, the five-times world player of the year, having his worst domestic campaign in nine seasons scoring only four league goals so far.
Zidane has learned on the job becoming a marvellous upholsterer as much as a coach. He has not tinkered too much, staying true to the counter-attacking instincts of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti in the role, but injuries and suspensions to Dani Carvajal and Marcelo have nullified the threat from wide areas.
Already there are murmurings that he should dispense with Isco for this match because he slows down Madrid in possession. And there is Zidane's major problem. Perez thinks he knows best because he runs the wider business.
"He’s a fantastic person but when he gets to thinking he knows everything about football he makes mistakes," said Queiroz. "The president didn’t want to understand how things worked and in the end it was me who was made to pay.”
This may not be the beginning of the end, but well may be the start of a more telling period. Pride comes before a fall. Finding a fresh formula is more difficult than sticking with an old one.
Is Zidane entitled to a season of spectacular failure for what he has done in two years of brilliance? History suggests you don’t want to put Perez on the spot.
Eden Hazard has said it would be a "dream" to work under Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane amid rumours of discontent at Chelsea.
The Chelsea midfielder, who helped inspire the club's league title last season, has been linked to the La Liga giants in recent months.
Speaking to Belgian TV channel RTL while on international duty this week, Hazard said: "Everyone knows the respect I have for Zidane as a player, but also as a manager. He was my idol."
Though the 26-year-old insisted he was committed to Chelsea, he added: "I do not know what will happen in my career in the future. However, for sure, to play under Zidane would be a dream."
The comments could be seen as a bold "come get me" gesture, as persistent rumours of trouble at Stamford Bridge continue to circulate.
With manager Antonio Conte appearing to voice frustration about the club's slow transfer window last summer, technical director Michael Emenalo parted company with Chelsea this week in a move that could have been interpreted as a gesture of solidarity with the Italian, by the board.
Chelsea are nine points adrift of table leaders Manchester City, and next face West Brom after the international break.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said on Friday he does not know when Gareth Bale will return from his latest calf problem as he faced repeated questions about the Wales international's future at the European champions.
Bale sustained the injury towards the end Real's 3-1 win at Borussia Dortmund on Sept. 26 in which he had played a starring role to answer many of his critics in the Spanish media.
It was the eighth time he had damaged his left calf muscle since joining Real from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013 and his 10th calf problem since he moved to Spain.
Real originally said Bale's fitness problems in Dortmund were related to cramp and allowed him to go on international duty with Wales.
Scans, however, soon revealed he had injured his calf and forced him out of Wales's World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Ireland.
Real later released a medical report stating Bale had a swollen calf but had not torn the muscle.
It did not give an estimated date for his return, and Zidane was unable to clarify the situation.
"I can't say when he'll be back, but he's better, I can't say if he'll return in a week or 10 days, we'll have to see," Zidane told a news conference on Friday ahead of Real's visit to Getafe in La Liga.
"He's getting better every day. He had two problems, one in Dortmund when he only seemed a bit worn out, and then he had a different problem with his calf. Now we have to take it easy with him and be patient."
Bale is ruled out of Saturday's short trip to Getafe and unlikely to feature against former side Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League on Tuesday, while he is also a doubt for the return game against Mauricio Pochettino's side on Nov. 1.
Real are fifth in the Liga standings, seven points behind leaders Barcelona.
Bale, 28, has missed a third of Real's games since he joined the club in a then world record move for 100 million euros ($118 million).
He had to watch most of last season's Liga and Champions League winning double campaign from the sidelines due to a long lay off with an ankle injury and subsequent calf problems and later said he regretted rushing back too early after surgery on his ankle.
"Bale is the one who is most upset about this because he hates to be away from the team. I hope he returns quickly and plays like he did in Dortmund," Zidane said.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said on Tuesday that he has renewed his contract with the Spanish champions, although the deal has not yet been announced officially.
Madrid have renewed various players' contracts in recent weeks and the Frenchman told a news conference that he too has extended his deal, which was set to expire at the end of this season.
"In terms of the renewal, it's already done, but it doesn't mean anything," said Zidane. "I care about the day to day and I'm not looking further than that, this is complicated."
Zidane took charge of Real in January 2016 and has led them to consecutive Champions League trophies and their first La Liga title since 2012, as well winning the UEFA Super Cup twice and the FIFA Club World Cup.
Real Madrid continue their league title defence on Wednesday as they host Real Betis, although they will be without defender Theo Hernandez who injured his shoulder in Sunday's 3-1 win at Real Sociedad.
"He has been diagnosed with a partial dislocation of the right shoulder," Madrid said in a statement on Tuesday, with Spanish reports indicating Hernandez will be out for a fortnight.
Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane was full of praise for Gareth Bale after the Welshman netted the third goal in the 3-1 win over Real Sociedad.
The former Tottenham man was booed at times during Wednesday's home Champions League win over Apoel Nicosia after an indifferent spell, but Zidane had backed Bale to hit top form again following last year's injury.
The 28-year-old responded by using his blistering speed to collect a long Isco ball over the top and coolly chip in his second goal of the season, and Zidane is certain there is more to come.
"He's had a great game and not just because of the goal," he told a post-match press conference. "I'm happy he scored because he needed it. It wasn't easy, after running 70 metres, he finished very well and I am happy for him.
"He's not playing at his best but little by little we'll find the real Gareth. I know he can do much better and we have to be patient. He is happy with his goal, it's a weight off of his shoulders. But he has also worked hard defensively."
"I just keep my head down, keep working hard, that is all I can do. I cannot control what goes on, I can just control my own game on the pitch.
" You go through ups and downs in your career, it is about how you bounce back. "
Earlier in the game, Borja Mayoral, 20, had opened his Real Madrid account and then provided the cross for Kevin Rodrigues to turn into his own net after the La Real full-back had levelled at the other end.
Mayoral's goal meant Los Blancos had scored in 73 consecutive games, equalling the record set between November 1961 and August 1963 by a Santos side containing Pele.
"We showed character to get the win because it's not an easy place to come," added Zidane. "Real Sociedad have had a good start to the season. We played 90 minutes at a great level, especially the first half. Bale and Borja's goals gave us the victory but it was achieved by the whole group.
"We must congratulate the players for the run of 73 consecutive games scoring. They are the ones who run, fight and have achieve this record. We can keep the run going in the coming games. But for me the most important thing is the victory and how we got it. We played very well from the start."
Real broke a run of two consecutive draws in LaLiga with their win at Anoeta and now sit fourth in the table, four points behind leaders Barcelona.
Real Madrid broke Barcelona's recent stranglehold on the La Liga title due to their effervescent squad and superior strength in depth compared with their arch-rivals, who delivered in the biggest games but came unstuck against weaker opposition.
Luis Enrique's side earned 14 points from 18 in their six games against the other sides in Spain's top four, doing the double over Sevilla, winning at Atletico Madrid and beating Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
Barca fared better against the top sides than the champions, who clinched a 33rd title, their first in five years, by winning 2-0 at Malaga on Sunday.
Madrid took eight points from top-four opponents, yet Barca failed to win a third successive title due to surprise slip-ups against Alaves, Celta Vigo, Deportivo La Coruna and Malaga, all of whom were swatted aside by Real Madrid.
The Catalans' first defeat of the season was a shock 2-1 home loss to Alaves, when Luis Enrique's heavy squad rotation backfired as he rested Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta in preparation for a Champions League game with Celtic.
Barca suffered their second defeat of the campaign against Celta Vigo, losing 4-3 without the injured Messi and with Iniesta rested for the first half.
The Catalans dearly missed Neymar when they lost 2-1 at lowly Deportivo just days after their stunning 6-1 win over Paris St Germain in the Champions League, and they struggled without Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic in a 2-0 loss at Malaga.
By contrast, Madrid won all of the corresponding fixtures which Barca lost as well as easily beating Real Sociedad and Real Betis, who held the previous champions to draws, even when coach Zinedine Zidane made wholesale changes.
The Frenchman has been able to leave talisman Cristiano Ronaldo out of nine league games and survived long spells without record signing Gareth Bale through injury. The likes of Isco, Marco Asensio and Alvaro Morata thrived in their places.
Zidane made nine changes from the team that lost 3-2 to Barcelona in April against Deportivo and watched his side run riot in a 6-2 win with five different goalscorers. The same players thrashed Granada 4-0, Leganes 4-2 and Eibar 4-1.
The Spanish media have dubbed these second-string players "the B team", with some even arguing that they are stronger than the first-choice players.
Zidane, however, has reaped the benefits of his rotation system in Europe as his well-rested first-choice players outgunned Napoli, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid to reach the Champions League final against Juventus on June 3 where they could seal their first European Cup and Liga double since 1958.
Zidane's careful management of Ronaldo, 32, has been another factor behind ending their five-year wait for the Liga title, with the Portuguese hitting peak form in the final stretch of the season.
Ronaldo's 14 goals in his last nine games in all competitions -- including the first after two minutes at Malaga on Sunday before Karim Benzema's second-half strike -- contrasts with the bedraggled state in which he ended the last campaign.
Another of Zidane's achievements was convincing the usually restless forward of the benefits of reduced game time.
"Everything is decided at the end of the season and Zidane has managed the team very well, and we also have a great, young squad," Ronaldo said after the 4-1 win at Celta Vigo which took Real to the brink of the title.
Zinedine Zidane hailed Real Madrid's remarkable strength in depth as the key to his side entering their final game of the season at Malaga on the brink of lifting their first La Liga title since 2012.
The French manager described his squad as "spectacular" on Saturday as he looked forward to the prospect of them earning the point that will earn the European champions a 33rd Spanish title.
The French coach has repeatedly rotated his side throughout the season, with 21 players making 10 or more starts in the league, yet the frequent changes have rarely impacted results, leading Real to pick up 90 points from their 37 games.
They lead double champions Barcelona by three points and will seal their expected triumph on Sunday if they avoid defeat to Malaga, who have nothing at stake although they have won four of their last six games.
"I think that's the most important thing, that every player has contributed," Zidane told a news conference ahead of the trip to Malaga.
"As I said on the first day, this squad is spectacular and the key has been getting every player to feel that they are important.
"The players who have played less have done just as well as the rest."
Zidane has done an extraordinary job himself. His careful management of the squad has also seen them sail into Champions League final against Juventus on June 3 with the chance of becoming the first team to successfully defend the European Cup since AC Milan in 1990.
"When you have 60 game per season it's very difficult on a physical level, but we've got to this stage with our spirits high and we're flying physically," Zidane said.
"The players kept believing, we've all done our job, but what the players have done is fantastic. Every time someone has come onto the pitch they've made a difference and that's the best thing."
Real are on course for a third Champions League triumph in the last four years but they have struggled to match their European success on the domestic stage, winning just two of the last nine La Liga titles while Barcelona have won six.
Zidane, however, believes his side will be worthy champions if they can clinch the title on Sunday.
"You have to show every day that you want to win the league, we've worked so hard and we deserve to be in the position we're in. We're top and now we have to finish what we're doing," he said.
"The game (at Malaga) will be our hardest. We had difficulties against Sevilla and Celta (Real beat both sides 4-1) but with a lot of concentration you can achieve great things."
Despite his side's recent success in European competition, the Blancos boss is wary of the challenge facing his side when they take on Juventus