Real Madrid's 'meaningless' end to La Liga has serious ramifications for Zinedine Zidane
The pressure that comes with Zinedine Zidane's job is obviously extreme. Aside from the "win or get sacked trying" situation that every Real Madrid manager finds themselves in, reports of Neymar negotiating with Real Madrid will be an unwelcome distraction for Zidane in the next couple of weeks. He still has games in La Liga to play as he tries to right the ship domestically while fighting distractions and injuries to keep his players in shape, both mentally and physically, for the final of the Champions League -- a game, however surreal as it might sound, that could decide his future at the club.
At Zidane's pre-Celta Vigo press conference, much of the talk was about Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar, whose father has reportedly initiated his exit from the French capital. "Would he disrupt the dressing room?" and "Could he co-exist with Ronaldo?" were among the hypothetical questions the manager was asked, which he batted away with some annoyance. "I didn't ask for Neymar because we are not thinking about that," he replied.
Zidane, like any manager, would like a tranquil run-in to Kiev at the end of the month. Any hopes of that, however, were thrown out the window when Sevilla manhandled Real Madrid's second unit at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Wednesday night. There is nothing to play for in La Liga, but Real Madrid want to win every game in every competition. That loss, instead of taking attention off the last couple of games in the league for Los Blancos, has instead shone a spotlight on them directly. "We deserved to lose," Zidane said after the 3-2 defeat in Seville, with Real Madrid now sitting 18 points behind Barcelona.
The Frenchman's task now is to find a balance between resting his stars and resurrecting his side's form ahead of the Champions League final. Gareth Bale should come back into the side and Isco could do with some minutes since he hasn't played in the past three league games and couldn't make the second leg against Bayern either.
Juan Carlos Unzue, the Celta Vigo manager says: "Zidane could put a team out that is not similar at all to the one that played at the Sanchez Pizjuan" as the guessing game continues regarding the Real manager's team selection. Dani Ceballos, who threw a tantrum after being taken off against Sevilla, Theo Hernandez, Kiko Casilla and Jesus Vallejo will all likely be replaced in place of players who will or could feature in Kiev on May 26. Dani Carvajal and Cristiano Ronaldo remain sidelined, however, as the clock ticks on their recovery from minor knocks.
That loss to Sevilla threw up the question of Zidane's future and just like the topic of Neymar, the Frenchman would not be drawn. "I'm not saying yes or no" is all he would offer. He knows himself that stuttering to the end of La Liga, regardless of what is or isn't at stake, will not go down well in the stands or in the boardroom at the club.
"What will happen is what needs to happen," Zidane said as he echoed the same point he has made several times before from behind that desk at Valdebebas in his prematch chats. If he has to step aside for the good of Real Madrid then he will. It is bizarre to think that the man who has brought two Champions League titles in two years and three in four is being asked about his job security, but such is the pressure at Real Madrid.
For now though, Celta Vigo lay on the horizon, and with a fit-again Iago Aspas set to play, Real Madrid need to be careful because another performance and result like the one on Wednesday will have fingers hovering over the panic button. In the same tie earlier in the year at Balaidos, Celta Vigo pummelled Los Blancos in the second half to the point where Real Madrid were chasing shadows and lumping the ball forward whenever they found the ball at their feet. It finished 2-2 but a second-half Aspas penalty miss might have tipped the scale in Celta's favour on another night.
Celta won their last encounter at the Santiago Bernabeu and pushed Real Madrid all the way in the game before that with a Toni Kroos strike in the 81st minute saved them in a 2-1 win.
Zidane will answer more questions on Neymar than he wants to in the coming weeks, but his main task is to keep his side ticking over in the league with the greater goal of keeping them primed for the Champions League final. "All that matters at Real Madrid are results and nothing else," he said during his press conference.
And winning at the Bernabeu on Saturday night would reinstall some balance ahead of what is sure to be a whirlwind two weeks in the Spanish capital.
Robbie is based in Madrid and is one of ESPN FC's Real Madrid bloggers. Twitter: @robbiejdunne