At Real Madrid, nothing ever seems easy.
Zinedine Zidane may well have made things look as much by winning three Champions League titles in a row between 2016 and 2018, as well as league titles in 2016 and 2020, but his position in the Spanish capital is looking precarious.
Now that sounds silly to say given the fact Madrid are Spanish champions once again - a fairly novel thing these days despite their historical dominance - but recent results have put him back under pressure.
A 1-0 loss to Cadiz who, in truth, could have had more was compounded by a 3-2 loss at home to Shakhtar Donetsk (well, at that of their B team) as Los Blancos returned to Europe ahead of this weekend's El Clasico.
So, how has it come to this?
One of very few major clubs not to make a signing over the course of the summer, the revamp of the Santiago Bernabeu is Florentino Perez’s main project right now.
Perhaps you could argue that isn’t Zidane’s fault and, though there is an element of truth to that, some of his decisions have been strange to say the least.
An over-reliance on the core of his most successful teams has seen the likes of Marcelo and Luka Modric do their level best to hold off the advances of Old Father Time.
Indeed, a consequence of that has seen emerging young talent sold, which is more of a long-term issue.
Who’s been let go?
Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez are obviously the headline exits but were rarely used by Zidane in what ultimately turned out to be a league-winning campaign, so it’s hard to argue they will be missed when looking at the bigger picture.
No, the departures of Sergio Reguilon, Dani Ceballos and Achraf Hakimi are far more concerning.
Ferland Mendy (one of few recent signings to have truly worked out) may have mitigated the need for Reguilon somewhat but Ceballos and Hakimi could at least provide useful options.
The former may well have offered a more dynamic role in midfield as Modric and Toni Kroos struggle to match their own high standards while the latter may well have given Dani Carvajal some much-needed competition on the right-hand side of defence.
Clearly, that’s not to say having Ceballos and Hakimi to call upon would make Real major contenders once again but the midfielder was regarded as one of the best Spanish creators around during his time with Real Betis while the full-back has been a regular for both Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan, providing energy down the right-hand side.
Fede Valverde and Alvaro Odriozola are options but considering how long some of this squad have been together and the number of games Madrid tend to play, the squad would look a lot stronger had they stayed.
Who’s been signed?
Mendy has undoubtedly been a decent addition and can provide a long-term heir to Marcelo but the additions of Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic are yet to work out.
Hazard, a man swooned by Zidane, has constantly struggled with injury since leaving Chelsea in 2019 and Jovic has only scored two goals in a team largely reliant on Karim Benzema.
Costing an estimated €157m between them, it’s not as if anyone is flush with cash after the COVID-19 pandemic, so these kind of investments simply have to work.
How are the old guard getting on?
Sergio Ramos’ importance cannot be overstated even if the club captain can sometimes be somewhat of a liability. Without his leadership at the back, Madrid have lost seven of their last eight Champions League games and, oddly enough, Ramos has emerged as a palpable goal threat since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Benzema is another important elder statesman, leading the way for goals (21) and assists (8) as Madrid won the title last season.
Outside of the trophy-laden pair, however, there have been struggles. Modric’s ability cannot be questioned - as his goal against Shakhtar proved - though is surely entering the autumn of his career at 35 yet still expected to run the midfield.
Marcelo, too, has been widely criticised for his performances of late with sections of the Spanish media even suggesting he should only play in Copa Del Ray matches.
Who's to blame?
There has been plenty of criticism about the way in which Madrid operate behind the scenes in the past and many otherwise talented managers have fallen foul to the high demands the job comes with.
The money spent on re-doing the stadium, coupled with the pandemic, has not made things easy but, ultimately, his decision to let go a raft of talented young players has cost him more dynamic options within the squad.
Squad building was something he insisted on upon his return to the club in 2019 and, frankly, he has failed. Such is the nature of life with Madrid, a league title win can never be enough (as Fabio Capello can attest) especially considering the implosion of Barcelona and the fact Atletico Madrid are in a transitional period.
Real Madrid will win things without Zinedine Zidane. It's far from certain that works in reserve.
- El Clasico: The GMS Preview
- Predicting the awfulness of a European Premier League
- Toni Kroos and Antoine Griezmann feature in the best goals of 2020