Earlier this season, Julen Lopetegui knew definitively that his Real Madrid coaching tenure was over when Los Blancos were hammered 5-1 at the Camp Nou.
The manner of the defeat left Florentino Perez no other option, notwithstanding that the president needs no excuse to exercise his trigger finger.With Mauricio Pochettino off limits at least until the end of the current season, and other coaches not getting universal approval from the corridors of power, installing Santiago Solari was the most sensible decision at the time.
Aside from a couple of bumps in the road when Real were surprisingly beaten at Eibar and CSKA Moscow, the Argentinian has done well and been brave in his selections and strong in his man-management.
To that end, Perez and his board can’t have too many complaints.
Orders that appear to have come from on high – playing Vinicius Junior and Thibaut Courtois seemingly being two – have been carried out to the letter, but they’re decisions that have worked out well.
Even dropping Marcelo has seen the emergence of Sergio Reguilon, who looks well placed to be Real’s left back for the foreseeable future.
However, all of the good work was undone last Wednesday when, despite dominating in terms of chance creation, Los Blancos were still beaten 3-0 by Barcelona.
A Copa del Rey semi-final exit against your fiercest rivals is always going to hurt, and Solari will have some explaining to do to his paymasters.
The issue he has now is that they do it all again on Saturday, in what has now become a must win game for the coach.
In five of the last six clasicos to be played at the Santiago Bernabeu, Barca have scored at least three times.
Even when not playing at their best, as happened on Wednesday night, they were still far too clinical for their hosts.
If they plunder another win on Saturday night, not only will they go ahead on the historical head to head record – they’re currently locked on 95 wins each – but there’s a strong likelihood that they’ll be ending the tenure of a second Real Madrid coach in the same season.
Defeat for Real would leave them 12 points behind Barca and out of the title race, meaning that they’d only have the Champions League to play for, where another title will be the only thing that will save Solari’s skin.
Ahead on away goals against Ajax, Real do have the advantage, however, they’ll be tired from two gruelling games against the Blaugrana and will also be missing Sergio Ramos who has been banned by UEFA for intentionally getting booked in the first match.
All of a sudden, the garden isn’t looking so rosy for Solari.