Just one season of normality at Real Madrid – that’s all we ask. Will never happen.
Zinedine Zidane’s men struggled to figure themselves out in 2020/21. There were times in which they looked like the best team on the planet, but others which serve to explain why the mood at the Santiago Bernabeu is so uncomfortable this summer.
Coming away with zero trophies and about 100 questions which need answering, there needs to be big changes at Real, with both the manager and the playing squad facing uncertain futures.
How Real get themselves out of this mess will be an interesting watch. After all, this is the club owned by the same Florentino Perez who is adamant that they are too good for the rest of Europe and on the brink of financial extinction because of decisions that have absolutely nothing to do with spending £150m on Eden Hazard. Nothing at all.
From the boardroom, to the dugout and on to the pitch, there aren’t many happy campers at Real right now, and performances in the 2020/21 season obviously haven’t helped that.
Let’s take a deep dive into Real’s campaign.
La Liga – 2nd
Real were consistently just alright this season. They rose to second in gameweek 15 and stayed there for all but four of the remaining rounds of fixtures, which tells you all you need to know. They were good, but just not good enough.
An uncomfortable start to the season, which included a 1-0 loss to Cadiz, a 4-1 defeat to Valencia and a 2-1 reverse to Alaves, ultimately gave them too much work to do in the title race, but to their credit, they almost clawed it back.
Atletico Madrid had boasted an enormous lead at the top of the table, but Real closed the gap with a run of just one defeat in their last 27 games and were even favourites to win the whole thing in early May, only for a 2-2 draw with Sevilla to temper expectations.
For Real, the problem was draws. They shared points in nine games this year, six of which were away from home. Real Betis and Getafe both battled to goalless draws with Zidane’s men in April, and they just couldn’t recover from it.
Real had so many chances to win this title but fell short whenever the door was open, suggesting this squad is still a few pieces (or a Kylian Mbappe) away from glory.
If there’s one positive to take, it’s that they were clear of Barcelona, who ended five points behind and weren’t even in the title picture on the final day. It’s a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Copa del Rey – third round
January was a very rough month for Real, with one of the worst blows coming in the Copa del Rey, where Zidane’s mighty side were deservedly bested by third-tier side Alcoyano in the third round.
We’re not going to pretend that this was a full-strength Real side, but the likes of Casemiro, Marcelo and Isco started the game and Toni Kroos, Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio were all on the pitch when Los Blancos fell behind in extra-time.
Zidane’s future was all the Spanish press could talk about, and that wasn’t helped by…
Supercopa – semi-final
Six days before that defeat to Alcoyano, Real had crashed out of the Supercopa at the semi-final stage at the hands of eventual winners Athletic Club.
Makeshift right-back Lucas Vazquez had a couple of howlers in the first half and gifted Athletic two easy goals, but Real could not get themselves back into the tie until Karim Benzema’s 73rd-minute strike, at which point it was just too late.
Two domestic trophies lost in embarrassing fashion across just six days.
Champions League – semi-final
The inquiry into Zidane’s future actually began in December, when he took his Real side into their final group stage match against Gladbach knowing defeat would eliminate them from the tournament at the earliest possible stage.
They had been stunned by Shakhtar and held by Gladbach in the first two weeks, and yet another defeat to Shakhtar later on had Real on the brink of collapse, but Zidane pulled out his tomorrow is a final card and managed to mastermind a 2-0 win.
From there, things stepped up pretty nicely. Atalanta were no match in the last 16 and Real stormed to victory over Liverpool in the quarter-final, with Vinicius Junior coming in clutch with a double in a 3-1 home win which ultimately decided the tie.
That performance saw Real enter their semi-final tie with Chelsea as slight favourites, but Thomas Tuchel had other ideas. They were lucky to snatch a 1-1 draw in the first leg and were deservedly bested 2-0 in the return.
A 3-1 aggregate defeat was bad enough but it didn’t show the true story of the two games, in which Real could have conceivably been down by double figures. They were all at sea and looked nothing like a team whose ownership were (and still are) preaching that they were too good for the Champions League.
Thibaut Courtois had another excellent season in goal, while the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro were all typically brilliant, but it’s genuinely concerning to think where Real would have been without Karim Benzema.
The Frenchman bagged 30 goals and nine assists in all competitions this year, finding the back of the net 23 times more than the team’s second highest scorer, Marco Asensio. Sure, there were a handful of players who were flirting with five or six goals, but Benzema was just on an island of his own for the entire campaign.
His form was so impressive that he forced his way back into the France setup for the first time since he was controversially cut in 2015.
By the time the season ended, Zidane felt he could only rely on 13 or 14 of his first-team squad. He had so little faith in the rest, and while some of his grievances were strange, most were pretty justified.
It’s easy to point the finger at struggling stars like Isco and Asensio, while the eternally injured duo of Hazard and Sergio Ramos were both hugely disappointing yet again, but we’re going to have to look at Marcelo for this one.
The ageing left-back played 19 matches in all competitions and tasted victory in just nine of those, three of which saw him come on as a late substitute as well. He could hardly have disappointed more if he tried, and to see him demoted behind Castilla star Miguel Gutierrez for the all-important run-in spoke volumes of his struggles.
The Spanish media called for Zidane’s head to roll with alarming regularity in 2020/21. While he’s obviously a victim of his own success – second in La Liga and a spot in the Champions League semi-final isn’t exactly bad going – there’s a clear feeling that he might not be the man to get Real back to the trophy-laden glory days.
A lot of the issues from Zidane’s tenure stem from his relationships with his players. As we mentioned previously, the Frenchman was happy to freeze out any player he didn’t trust, and the number of players on the fringes started to get a little silly at some points. Zidane filled his bench with academy talents just to a prove a point to his struggling seniors.
It created a frosty, uncomfortable atmosphere which you can’t help but feel contributed to Real’s struggles, and Zidane’s attitude has left a lot of players wanting to leave.
With no trophies to their name, this season has to be remembered as a failure for Real, although things could have been a lot worse than they were.
They gave a solid account of themselves both in the league and in Europe, but is decent good enough for the team championing the Super League? Expectations are so high at the Bernabeu and Real have undoubtedly fallen short on all fronts.