What a difference a few weeks can make.
Earlier this month Real Madrid were dreaming of an historic quadruple – if not publicly, then privately. At the turn of the year Los Blancos were hitting form at just the right time, having won the Spanish Super Cup and looking good in LaLiga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.
Fast-forward one month and with their Copa del Rey dreams shattered by Real Sociedad and having lost top spot in LaLiga, things are looking very different for Zinedine Zidane and his men.
Things change quickly in football. For better and for worse. This week Madrid have the chance to make things better but the biggest week of their season so far has not started well.
Not only did a 1-0 loss at Levante, coupled with Barcelona’s thumping 5-0 victory over Eibar, see Los Blancos lose top-spot ahead of next week’s Clásico at the Bernabéu, but the loss of Eden Hazard for another two months has given Zidane plenty of problems to contend with ahead of the visit of Manchester City on Wednesday in the last-16 of the Champions League.
The former Chelsea man was being conditioned to return ahead of this week’s huge double header against City and Barça but an injury in that slender loss at Levante will see the Belgian international sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Zidane has plenty of possible alternatives in Gareth Bale, Vinicius Jr., Lucas Vázquez and Rodrygo, but the timely return of Hazard will not give Madrid the boost they need in a make-or-break week.
The one thing Zidane will not do is panic, nor be swayed by the media. The Frenchman has made a number of surprise selection choices this season, most of which have worked out well, and with the options at his disposal Hazard’s absence, having missed most of the season already, will be softened.
Bale, seemingly an outcast at the start of the season, could be given the nod given his knowledge of the Premier League and City, while Vinicius has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks and Lucas Vázquez has always been a trusted go-to man for Zidane in a time of need.
Madrid are also likely to welcome back Fede Valverde, who become a father last week, and Ferland Mendy, rested against Levante with just one yellow card away from missing the Clásico, given Zidane plenty of fresh possibilities.
As always with Madrid, a league loss usually results in a mini crisis but things can change quickly. While a defeat against Levante was never part of the plan, two huge matches will give Madrid the perfect chance to bounce back.