Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Rafa Benitez finds himself in a tight corner

Barcelona loss haunts coach as Real Madrid travel to Shakhtar Donetsk
Image Credit: Reuters
Real Madrid’s coach Rafa Benitez (R) talks to players Luka Modric (C) and Marcelo during a training session, a day ahead of their “Clasico” soccer match against Barcelona, at the Valdebebas training grounds outside Madrid, Spain, November 20, 2015. 
Madrid: The pressure on Real Madrid coach Rafa Benitez is intense in the wake of Saturday’s 4-0 trouncing at the hands of Barcelona in the Clasico as they take on Ukraine’s Shakhtar in an away game on Wednesday.
While they can head to Ukraine with the pressure off having already secured their place in the last 16, a win in Lviv will guarantee top spot. Shakhtar are top of the Ukrainian league but realistically need a win to maintain any hope of reaching the knockout stages themselves.
Real president Florentino Perez gave his manager the vote of confidence, but another setback could mean the end of the line for the coach, no matter what the president says.
Spanish media were already discussing Benitez’s replacement, and the name atop the list was Zinedine Zidane, the former France great, who is coaching Madrid’s ‘B’ team in the third division. Although he says he is not in a hurry to get promoted, Zidane’s name will be mentioned every time Real fail to get a win.
“I’m coaching Castilla now. Benitez is the coach of the first team and things are fine like that,” the 43-year-old Zidane told Spanish media. “I still have a long way to go.”
Some fans have also called for the return of Italian coach Carlos Ancelotti, who helped Real win their 10th European title two seasons ago. And there have been some reports that Fabio Capello, currently out a job, could be the next in line.
To keep the president on his side and stay in the job, Benitez needs to find a way to get Real back on track.
“We are all responsible and now we have to show unity in order to win the next game and give the fans something to be happy about, which is something we failed to do (against Barcelona),” the 55-year-old Benitez said. “We need to get over this result and focus on the next match as soon as possible.”
Things were just fine for the coach until two weeks ago, when Real lost for the first time in a Spanish league match at Sevilla. Real had been leading the league and winning games with ease despite a series of injuries to their regular starters.
They advanced to the knockout stage of the Champions League with two rounds to go, and are likely to finish first in their group ahead of Paris Saint-Germain.
Benitez defends himself by pointing to the team’s numbers this season. Real’s only bad result prior to the consecutive losses was a home draw against Malaga, when goalkeeper Carlos Kameni was the man of the match after stopping everything Real’s strikers threw at him.
Real had won four of their first five league games, outscoring opponents 14-1. They drew at Atletico Madrid 1-1, then won the next three matches by at least two goals.
Among the key players injured early in the season were Keylor Navas, Sergio Ramos, James Rodriguez, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. The game against Barcelona marked only the second time that Benitez had all of his players available.
“We need to give him some time,” Perez said on Monday in a hastily scheduled news conference to show the club’s “unequivocal” support to the coach. “We are confident that he can turn things around.”
After the Barcelona loss, many criticised Benitez for starting with a lineup that left the team too exposed. But before the game, others had criticised him for playing too defensively.
“With the match now over, we can clearly say that the lineup didn’t work,” said the coach, who was hired by Real less than six months ago. “I pick my teams by trying to manage the group as best as possible.”