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Back-to-back El Classico defeats leaves Real Madrid in ruins

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Real Madrid's plight continues

This season was always going to be one of transition for Real Madrid after losing two real icons of the clubs modern history in the summer. The departures of record scorer Cristiano Ronaldo and head coach Zinedine Zidane were huge but no one at the club really thought that their absence would hit them this hard. Over the last 8 years Los Blancos have been THE dominant force both domestically and continentally - with their success in the Champions League in particular like nothing that's ever been seen before.

Last years 3-1 victory over Liverpool in Kiev ensured that they became the first side in the competitions history to win it three years in a row, an incredible achievement. The core of the Madrid squad has remained the same throughout this glittering period of the clubs history and they're still together in the 18/19 campaign, but for whatever reason they just haven't retained the same consistency and quality that saw achieve all that success. Big names are massively underperforming and they're on their second manager of the campaign, with former player Santiago Solari replacing Julen Lopetegui after a shocking start to the campaign.

The failure to replace Ronaldo's goal looks like one of the main reasons behind their massive dip this season after signing inadequate replacements last summer - something they surely won't do this year. Big money needs to be spent to re-build this ageing squad which looks like it's going to end the season without a major trophy (winning just the Club World Cup), the first time that Real Madrid have done so in 8 years. Their last hope is the Champions League, a competition they've had so much success in. Ajax stand in their way and 2-1 up from the first leg, they'll fancy their chances of going through but this season has proven anything is possible when Real are involved.

Ageing squad lacking motivation?

Playing for an elite club you always find yourself under pressure everyday and every game, but the levels at Real Madrid CF are absolutely insane. When playing for Los Blancos a certain level of commitment is expected, along with quality. They're the most successful club in European football and the Champions Leagues most dominant force, so what more would you expect? The current crop of Real players have been able to live up to those outrageously high expectations in recent seasons, providing trophy after trophy year-on-year, but this year has been different.

Yes they've lost their top scorer and there's been changes in management, but could there be a drop in motivation? This side has won pretty much everything on offer over the last few years and with many of them approaching the twilight of their careers, they could be finding it difficult to keep going for every competition on offer. Key men such as Marcelo, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema and skipper Sergio Ramos are all on the wrong side of 30, whilst Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale will soon hit that number which shows that they have a squad full of elite experience - but one that's not getting any younger.

Marcelo is one of a number of underperforming stars for Real Madrid this season

Offloading Ronaldo was a massive decision made by Florentino Perez and the Real hierarchy last summer but receiving upwards of £100m for a 33 year-old was something they just couldn't refuse. However on the flip-side, failing to sign a replacement has left them really short handed in the big games. The Portugal skipper has been the clubs top scorer in all of his 8 seasons at the Bernabeu which included a 44 goal haul last term - this season Karim Benzema is leading the way with 15 which says it all.

Money needs to be spent and lots of it, with all areas of the team in need of re-enforcements. They've scored 23 fewer goals than La Liga leaders Barcelona but more worryingly they've conceded a massive 31 times - more than 15th placed Leganes and Athletic Club in 12th. Perhaps the changes in management and styles has something to do with it but it's extremely worrying and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Back-to-back El Classico defeats heaps on the pressure

The man at the helm for Los Blancos is currently former player Santiago Solari, who was initially a popular choice with the players who knew him well from his time spent as part of the backroom coaching staff. He made a fantastic start but things haven't gone to plan recently, with his future at the club looking in serious jeopardy. They've gradually climbed up the La Liga table but this week has been a particularly damning one for him, with back-to-back El Classico defeats effectively ending their hopes in two competitions.

A 4-1 two legged defeat in the Copa Del Rey semi-finals which culminated in a 3-0 hammering at the Bernabeu last Wednesday was followed up by a more hard fought 1-0 loss on Saturday in La Liga - leaving them 12 points behind Ernesto Valverde's men. Lionel Messi & co showed their class over those two games and gave a Real a big indicator of just how far off the pace they are at the moment, which isn't good news for Solari. He'll be desperate to be given a transfer window to prove himself but the trigger happy nature of the Real Madrid hierarchy makes that look unlikely - despite him being under contract until 2021.

Luis Suarez Lionel Messi Barcelona
The performances of Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi & co showed Real just how far behind their rivals they currently are

Big personalities in the dressing room are unhappy with some of this decisions, with Marca reporting that his decision to start Gareth Bale over the likes of Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez causing plenty of unrest. But then again in Solari's defence the Spanish duo have contributed just 7 league goals between them in 24 starts this season - Bale has 9 (7G 2A) in 16 starts. There's too many underperforming stars all over the pitch for Los Blancos but on the plus side it has led to some of the clubs exciting younger players being given the chance to get some much needed minutes.

Asensio, Sergio Reguilon, Dani Ceballos and VInicius Junior have all been regulars in the team this season - with the latter looking like he has the potential to one day fill Ronaldo's boots. The Brazilian made the move to the Spanish capital for a massive £38m at the age of 18 and he's shown flashes of the obvious talent he possesses. He looks very much in the Neymar mould with his dribbling skills making him a menace to defenders, but his composure and end product really needs to improve if he's to take the next step which will come with time. It's promising to see players such as Vinicius being given minutes but at the same time it's worrying that the club are relying on an 18 year-old with 2 league goals to his name in massive matches such as El Classico.

Champions League remains their only hope of silverware

With their exit from the Copa Del Rey sealed and Barcelona out of sight in La Liga, the Champions League remains Real Madrid's only hope of silverware this season. This time last year they were also pretty inconsistent domestically but their big players really came to the forefront in Europe, something which is required again this time around if they're to lift a major trophy and write even more history.

On Tuesday night they welcome Eredivise Champions Ajax to the Santiago Bernabeu, a tie in which their huge favourites to progress from. A late 2-1 victory in Amsterdam 3 weeks ago really put them in the driving seat going into the second leg and it's a game you would normally expect them to breeze through, but the Real Madrid of 18/19 are very unpredictable. They've lost their last 3 games in front of their own supporters and were also surprisingly thrashed 3-0 by CSKA Moscow in their last CL match there, so clearly anything is possible.

Karim Benzema
Goals from Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema give Real the advantage going into the second leg at the Bernabeu on Tuesday night

Ajax on the other hand are flying at the moment and their young side will be confident that they can take advantage of Real's current plight. They've won their last three matches, scoring 13 goals and possess some top players in David Neres, Hakim Ziyech, Matthijs de Ligt and Barcelona bound Frenkie De Jong - who'll be more fired up than most for this one. Knocking Real out would be a huge shock but their performance in the first leg proved that they're capable of causing them problems, so it's going to be interesting to see if they can take advantage of their defensive issues.

But priced up at 8/13 to win in 90 mins and 1/8 to qualify with SkyBet - they're overwhelming favourites to make it through to the quarter-finals for a ninth successive season. Failure to do so would ramp up the pressure on Solari to sky-high levels and have a catastrophic impact on their campaign.

Is Solari the man to lead Real forward?

When Julen Lopetegui was sacked after just 14 games in charge of Real Madrid we saw big names such as Mauricio Pochettino, Massimiliano Allegri and Antonio Conte all linked with the vacancy - so it was something of a surprise to see Solari appointed. A decent start to life in charge earned him a deal through till 2021 but with inconsistency creeping back into Real's season, he now finds himself firmly in the firing line.

We're already seeing the likes of Jose Mourinho and more so Pochettino being heavily linked with a move to the Bernabeu and you really feel that if they're to go the season without a major trophy we could see a change. Mourinho is free and available after being sacked by Manchester United in December and knows the club well after spending three years (2010-2013) in the hot seat, where he guided Los Blancos to three trophies. But the more attractive option would certainly be Pochettino, who's done a magnificent job with Tottenham.

Santiago Solari
It's been a hit & miss spell in charge of Real for Santiago Solari, but regardless of how the season the pans out we feel that he won't be the man in charge next season

The Argentine has transformed Spurs from an inconsistent top half side into title contenders on a modest budget, so it's not surprise to see him linked with some of the biggest jobs around. Joining Real Madrid would see him presented with a huge war chest and with a pool of talented youngsters to develop, we really feel that he could be the man to take them back to the top and we'd be amazed if the club don't enquire about his availability. But to prize him away from Spurs and more so Daniel Levy would be some mission, with the 47 year-old idolised in North London.

Either way, Tuesday night is without a doubt one of the biggest games in Real Madrid's season and it's one they simply can't afford to slip up in, especially after the back-to-back schoolings they received from Barcelona last week. This is a must win for Solari as it would effectively end Real's season in March, something which was unthinkable at the start of the campaign in August.