Real Madrid's 4-1 win at Valencia showed the players still support Zinedine Zidane, but the manager has a lot of work to do to ensure he doesn't get sacked after the season.
After such a disappointing season it’s inevitable that Zidane’s future is in serious doubt, and many other people with less credit in the bank would have already been fired by Florentino Perez by now.
The only way Zidane can turn things around is if his squad still believes in him and wants to play for him, and it was clear from their determined attitude at Valencia – especially when they managed to ride the storm of the home team’s pressure with the scoreline at 2-1 – that Madrid’s players are still prepared to give sweat, blood and tears for their manager.
That’s no surprise, because Zidane’s greatest asset has always been his man-management: his ability to relate to his players and make them all feel important, even when they’re not playing.
Even players who eventually had to leave – such as James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata – were never placed in a position where they felt they had to cause trouble or vent their anger, so we should only expect the Madrid squad to still be on their manager’s side.
There is still, however, a very long way to go before we can say that Zidane has secured his future, with a long run in the Champions League – perhaps even the title itself – the only thing that can save him now.
And there’s not much time for green shoots of recovery to blossom into a full-scale recovery, because the first leg of the last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain is now only a fortnight away.
Although Valencia didn’t grab the equaliser their pressure deserved, they were able to work the ball into dangerous positions far too often for Madrid’s comfort, and the visitors were only let off the hook by the lack of genuine world-class quality in Valencia’s attacking line.
If Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe had received such frequent possession in similar positions to Rodrigo, Santi Mina and Carlos Soler, it’s hard to imagine they would not have capitalised with more goals.
So Zidane doesn’t need to just keep his players onside, he also needs to get them organised into a more effective playing structure. That kind of coaching task is arguably his weakness, and he’s in a race against time to achieve it.