Real Madrid vs. Sevilla is about Zinedine Zidane vs. Julen Lopetegui

Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

The pressure won’t truly reach its peak until next week when Real Madrid face Borussia Monchengladbach, but this weekend’s match is still unmistakably massive for Zinedine Zidane.

There is no managerial position in sports that carries half as much pressure as the Real Madrid coaching job. This is where one man leads a group of Galacticos, with the yearly expectation being the type of glory that is associated with the galactic.

Zinedine Zidane completed the unprecedented feat of three straight Champions League titles. And even last year, he showed a cool hand with his leadership, guiding Real Madrid to a La Liga title despite injuries and questions about the squad’s quality post-Cristiano Ronaldo.

This season, Real Madrid are in trouble. They are at risk of being banished to the Europa League, which would send Los Blancos into a true horror show for the remainder of 2020-2021. And if that happens next week vs. Borussia Monchengladbach, Zidane, despite our reservations about making such a reactionary move, may have to kiss his job goodbye. Los Merengues in the Europa League is the mother of all memes and a catastrophe of such proportions that the circus in Barcelona would be suddenly forgotten.

But before Zidane’s Judgement Day at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, where he lost last weekend to lowly Deportivo Alaves, he must travel to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan to face one of the managers he replaced in the 2018-2019 season’s revolving door of Florentino Perez’s scapegoats.

Julen Lopetegui led Sevilla to another Europa League crown and to Champions League qualification in 2019-2020. Sevilla are fifth in the table this season and are just one point behind Real Madrid despite having played one fewer game. You can make a case that only Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid have been definitively better than Sevilla this season.

Basically, Sevilla is an evenly-matched opponent for Real Madrid. And on the road, that balance may shift to the side that isn’t coming off a humiliating loss to Shakhtar Donetsk.

The player’s play the game and the manager’s responsibility is often overstated. Case in point: That we’re even having this discussion about Zidane’s job security in the first place. He is not to blame for the injuries, COVID, and the embarrassing finishing from players like Vinicius Junior and Marco Asensio.

But nonetheless, he is on the hot seat and must bear responsibility for his own failings. Look no further than what he has done at Cadiz, at Valencia, and twice against Shakhtar Donetsk. Even Unai Emery outcoached him in the second half at the Estadio de la Ceramica, to the point where Zidane should feel lucky he has not lost three straight La Liga matches.

Zidane cannot make any mistakes this weekend at the Sanchez Pizjuan against Lopetegui, who has done a fantastic job for Sevilla since joining the Andalusian club. Lopetegui benefits greatly from working under perhaps the second-greatest scouting mind and sporting director in the world after Ralf Rangnick, Monchi. But he also executes.

Real Madrid are in a tough spot, but this is an important match for Zidane before Gladbach. He needs to instill confidence in his players and show that he can put together a competent gameplan. Because while it is true that Real have been hurt by injuries, the same can be said for their opponents this season, such as Shakhtar. And you would think that Real Madrid’s backups would have an advantage over any other team’s backups with their resources and squad depth. Alas, that is not the case.

That may because of Zidane’s poor adaptability, tactics, and in-game adjustments. He made none against Villarreal and Shakhtar and was thus torn apart in the second half of both matches due to his complacency.

If he is complacent against Lopetegui’s Sevilla, he can kiss his points goodbye and his only possible “Get Out Of Jail” card if he is to lose to arguably Germany’s finest tactician, Marco Rose.

A move down to the Europa League would be disastrous, but losing to Sevilla on Saturday is not comparatively acceptable either. Sevilla are Champions League competition for Los Blancos, because, as of right now, Real are barely hanging onto a Champions League place in their league. If they lose this match, they drop outside of the top four in the league at the same time they face relegation to the Europa League.

Next. Where Real Madrid went wrong at Shakhtar Donetsk. dark

Zidane could have two last chances to get things right against Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach. As much as I believe a firing changes nothing for this directionless, hobbled squad, I also know that these results are unacceptable for Real Madrid. This is the worst we have seen this club play in years. And Zidane will, whether it is fair or not, be the one made to pay if the wheels fall off.

But he has done the unthinkable at Real Madrid before. Even in this season of turmoil, he has led the club to wonderful wins over Barcelona and Inter twice. Zidane will be challenged to another degree in these next two fixtures, but he is not a man to dismiss.