LaLiga: Madrid stars playing for futures as summer rebuild looms

Losing to Ajax in the Champions League and being 12 points behind Barcelona in the league have left Real Madrid playing for pride for the remainder of the 2018-19 season.

Real Madrid players were dejected to be eliminated from the Champions League at the last-16 stage.   -  AP

Real Madrid has 12 games to salvage some pride and perhaps save Santiago Solari his job.

However, it is hard to imagine even the very best of run-ins allowing the Argentinian to remain as coach next season.

Something close to 12 wins could do it, but even that is unlikely to persuade club president Florentino Perez to overlook a season that's over before the middle of March.

Besides, nothing Madrid has shown in recent weeks suggests it is set for a sprint-finish, still less a run that would make Barcelona nervous, the Catalan club 12 points clear following its victory at the Santiago Bernabeu last weekend.

Read: Madrid loses Carvajal and Vazquez to injury

Atletico Madrid, five points in front, is more catchable, particularly if Diego Simeone's side completes the job against Juventus next week and the Champions League - not to mention a final at their own Wanda Metropolitano - becomes the key focus.

“We are sad and hurt,” Solari said after the 4-1 defeat to Ajax on Tuesday. “But the season continues. It's true the gap in the league is very big but we have to stand up. Madrid always come back.”

Just as finishing third in La Liga last season mattered little once Real was crowned European champions, snatching second after a miserable exit in the last-16 would certainly not make amends.

Instead, Solari's beleaguered side faces a struggling Real Valladolid on Sunday, looking for a victory to suggest its seven-day crisis will not give way to a three-month collapse.

Eight points should be enough to avoid dropping into a race for the top four, particularly given those closest are Getafe and Alaves, each enjoying remarkable seasons but perhaps unlikely to storm down the home straight.

Which leaves the best part of 11 weeks for Madrid's players to convince the club of their own futures, as well as the future of their coach.

- Elder statesmen on trial -

Regardless of what happens to Solari, this is the kind of season that prompts a rethink, and perhaps a revamp of the squad in the summer, with a handful of older players particularly under scrutiny.

Gareth Bale, Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Karim Benzema have all under-performed to varying degrees in recent weeks.

“We've all failed to find our best level this season,” said Kroos on Tuesday. “I'm the first to admit that.” “We could have done so much more,” said Nacho.

Conversely, Luka Modric, who was heavily linked with a move to Italy last summer, may feel it is time for a fresh start while there is little chance of Solari allowing Isco to prove his worth, although the Spaniard's prospects would transform as soon as a new coach came in.

While Real Madrid is in the unusual position of focusing solely now on LaLiga, Barcelona and Atletico will keep one eye on their own Champions League ties this weekend.

Atletico hosts Leganes on Saturday before taking a 2-0 lead over Juventus to Turin on Tuesday. Barca is at home to Rayo Vallecano, with a return against Lyon to come on Wednesday, following a goalless opening leg.

Barca was worryingly open in its Copa del Rey defeat of Real last week but much tighter in the league victory on Saturday, when a controlled 1-0 win showed the kind of nous it might well need in Europe.

“We were much better in this match,” Ernesto Valverde said. “The other day we won 3-0 but lacked control. This time we dominated the ball and when the chances came, we were ruthless.”

Fixtures (times GMT)

Friday

Athletic Bilbao v Espanyol (2000)

Saturday

Alaves v Eibar (1200), Atletico Madrid v Leganes (1515), Barcelona v Rayo Vallecano (1730), Getafe v Huesca (2045)

Sunday

Celta Vigo v Real Betis (1100), Girona v Valencia (1515), Levante v Villarreal (1730), Sevilla v Real Sociedad (1730), Real Valladolid v Real Madrid (2045)

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