Santiago Solari has undertaken a two-week long test and passed it with full marks. With Sunday’s thumping 4-2 victory over Celta Vigo, Real Madrid’s interim coach maintained his 100 per cent record, steering the Spanish giants to sixth in La Liga.
The Argentine has accomplished four victories from four games across all competitions, 15 goals scored, three clean sheets.The numbers are inarguable, especially when compared to five defeats from seven games that Julen Lopetegui managed before he was sacked at the end of October.
On Monday Madrid must give him a full-time contract or appoint a different coach because of rules preventing anyone from holding an interim position for longer than 15 days, and Solari will consider his position safe after his successful trial period.
Madrid’s turn in form, combined with a lack of available managers for the position, means president Florentino Perez is poised to hand Solari the keys. Of course, should things go wrong or Perez find a coach he would rather appoint, Solari’s time in charge may end up being brief, but for now Madrid’s results speak for themselves.
That’s not to say Solari’s Madrid haven’t ridden their luck, something which Lopetegui enjoyed little of during his painful tenure.
This was the third game in succession that Madrid needed the frame of their goal to save them, with Turkish midfielder Okay Yokuslu hitting the post early in the game.After surviving that scare Madrid took the lead through Karim Benzema and wasted a good chance to double it when Toni Kroos fired over with the goal gaping.
An own goal from Gustavo Cabral, who was later sent off, was another stroke of fortune and David Junca’s bizarre challenge on Alvaro Odriozola led to a penalty, converted by Sergio Ramos.The one Madrid goal against Celta which owed nothing to luck was Dani Ceballos’s brilliant long-range effort.
During the first three months of the season Lopetegui’s team put in similar performances to this without earning victory, but Solari does deserve credit for his work. He has invigorated Benzema, with the French striker appearing to sink back into a rut in Lopetegui’s final weeks, but the forward now has three goals in three games under Solari.
One area where Solari isn’t having any luck at all is with injuries. Madrid started off with a makeshift defence because of injuries to Marcelo, Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal, and more casualties were added to that list at Balaidos.Defensive midfielder Casemiro was taken off after 19 minutes, while Sergio Reguilon, the stand-in for Marcelo, also had to make way just after half time. When Nacho Fernandez suffered an injury after 71 minutes, right winger Lucas Vazquez had to switch to left back.
Despite that, Madrid survived against a Celta team with potent attackers, showing Solari has instilled some self-belief in a team that looked shipwrecked a fortnight ago.
There are still problems to solve. Solari has not got the best from Gareth Bale, for example.The Welsh winger, back on the left flank instead of the right, still looks lost through most of the game, far from the star he is supposed to be.
However Solari, it seems, has done enough to earn more time to tackle the team’s issues.