When times are good at Real Madrid, they are very, very good. And when they are bad, they are horrid. Zinedine Zidane has lived through it all, across his two tenures as coach.
That’s why he’s still as cool as ice, batting away questions about his potential resignation and stating the team can get back to winning ways, that they are capable of pulling results out of the bag in a week which will define their season.
Anything other than victory against the German side could see Madrid crash out of Europe in the group phase for the first time in their history. And the situation in La Liga could quickly turn ugly.
While bitter rivals Barcelona are enjoying an upturn in form, Madrid’s last three domestic games have seen defeats by Alaves and Valencia and a draw with Villarreal, which they were lucky not to lose.
Consequently, Zidane's men sit fourth, seven points behind league leaders Real Sociedad, and six behind second-place Atletico, who have played a game fewer.
The squad has been hit by injuries and several coronavirus cases, as well as the economic impact of the pandemic, which saw them unable to reinforce in the summer. Loan returns for Martin Odegaard and Alvaro Odriozola were as exciting as it got for a club renowned for signing 'Galacticos'.
The bad news is that Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal won’t make it back from injury to face Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, leaving Madrid’s defence exposed, although both are hoping to return for the crunch Gladbach clash.
Zidane met Florentino Perez face to face on Thursday morning, for the first time since the defeat in Kiev by Shakhtar, with the pair greeting with a fist bump.
Their relationship has not broken but that doesn’t mean the president will not wield the axe if Madrid’s results do not match their ambitions in the coming week.
The French coach is well aware that Madrid coaches are chopped and changed like new kit releases, even occasionally pointing out in press conferences that his time will eventually run out.
Zidane, though, remains respected by the majority of the players at Madrid and captain Ramos spoke to his team-mates in a meeting on Thursday to rally the troops.
“We are one victory away from getting through in the Champions League, it’s in our own hands and we have to give everything. This is Real Madrid, gentlemen. Together, we've come out of worse,” he said, according to AS.
Madrid are not as daunting a prospect now as they used to be in Europe, though. Zidane’s three consecutive Champions League wins are long forgotten, after successive last-16 eliminations, against Ajax and Manchester City.
However, given he was not afforded any new players in the summer, and Madrid have never effectively replaced 50-goal a season forward Cristiano Ronaldo, Zidane’s conscience is relatively clean and, crucially, he retains plenty of support.
“He’s the man who has the key to lift up Real Madrid,” former Los Blancos defender Christian Karembeu told Radio Marca. “Right now, he’s in trouble but I know he will quickly respond on the pitch with victories. He’s a winner and winners don’t resign.”
Zidane has said as much, although the sizeable pay-off he would receive in the event of his sacking could be a factor in his thinking, with rumours rife that Madrid are already considering former Tottenham coach Mauricio Pochettino and club legend Raul Gonzalez as potential successors.
"Zizou is a magnificent coach, a good friend and will do everything possible to have Madrid in the best position possible,” said former Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas at the AS awards gala on Thursday. “You cannot live in the past, but he has earned the right to lead Madrid.”
However, the easiest and, historically speaking, most likely solution for Madrid would be to change the coach. It is financially impossible to overhaul the squad at the moment and few would defend Zidane from a tactical standpoint.
He has rotated heavily, partly due to the compressed calendar, but also partly because he doesn’t trust a lot of the players at his disposal. Some, like Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic, seem to be in a cycle of injuries and absences, while others, like Isco and Marcelo, are far from their best and may never reach it again.
None of Rodrygo Goes, Vinicius Junior, Marco Asensio or Lucas Vazquez has been given a consistent run in the team, with Zidane constantly pursuing something he can’t quite grasp.
The coach has shown previously his great strength is control of the dressing room and he did wonderfully well in inspiring the team to grind their way to last season’s league title.
The football they played was dull yet diligent, and enough to keep a faltering Barcelona at arm’s length. But it won’t do for a whole season. That kind of concentration and effort is impossible to maintain long term.
What about over a week, though? Madrid could dig deep and produce three big results to keep Zidane in his job. They have the ability to beat Sevilla, Gladbach and Atletico, but the question is: do they have the desire to battle for their coach again?
And even if they do, how long can they keep this up? Unless Madrid's underlying issues are addressed, Zidane is likely to remain just two or three results away from the next crisis.