Ailing empire: What next for Real Madrid after Champions League humiliation?

Ailing empire: What next for Real Madrid after Champions League humiliation?
Real Madrid’s season is collapsing after they were turfed out of the Champions League just days after back-to-back home defeats against arch rivals Barcelona. But how can one of the world's great clubs revive their ailing empire?

All is not well at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Tuesday's humiliating 4-1 home defeat to Ajax suggests that their recent abject performances aren't merely 'blips' but perhaps the new norm for a club whose entire identity is formed by their successes on the pitch - and the longer it continues, the more it appears self-inflicted.

Of course, any team shorn of Cristiano Ronaldo's 50 goals per season is liable to see a downturn in results. That was to be expected. What wasn't was Madrid's complete failure to replace those goals. So far this season Madrid's attacking line have lagged well behind those of their Spanish rivals Barcelona, as was evident during the sides' two meetings in the space of four days recently.

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Only Karim Benzema has found the net with any sense of regularity this season - netting 11 times in La Liga and four times in the Champions League - though he still lags some way behind Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez's stats (the pair have a combined 41 goals in La Liga).

Gareth Bale, who has been recent target of fan frustration, seems to spend more time on the treatment table than he does the pitch. 

Vinicius Junior, the teenage Brazilian, has shown glimpses of brilliance but to place too much of a burden on the 18-year-old's shoulders too early could stifle his progression.

Real will also be without him for the remainder of the season, after he was forced off with ligament damage against Ajax. 

WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?

For a club with the stature of Real Madrid, the buck stops with the manager. Santiago Solari was drafted in to the club in late October to replace Julen Lopetegui after some dismal performances under the former Spain boss and it seems likely that the Argentine will meet the same fate as his predecessor.

As they have found out this season, though, sacking your manager doesn't automatically hit the hard reset button in a club.

If a wider malaise has hit the culture of a team the name on the door of the manager's office doesn't necessarily make much of a difference - but what Real Madrid wouldn't give to once turn back the clocks by a year to once again be under the leadership of Zinedine Zidane.

The names in the running for the Bernabeu hotseat, should Solari go, unsurprisingly read as a who's who of the world's managerial talent (with the exception of former Barca boss Pep Guardiola, who would not be considered for obvious reasons).

Former boss Jose Mourinho has been tipped for a return, while reports are also naming Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp as a target, as well as highly-regarded Tottenham coach Mauricio Pochettino. 

The likelihood is that Solari will be ditched, and his successor will inherit a major rebuilding project.  

RE-EVALUATE THE SQUAD

Since winning practically every individual award available in 2018, Luka Modric has suffered a significant drop in form. His dynamism has been blunted, perhaps a hangover from no longer playing in the same team as five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo.

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Toni Kroos, too, has been poor this season while Bale looks certain to leave the Spanish capital this season after his agent branded fans who booed Bale as he was substituted during his side's loss to Barcelona loss week as a "disgrace," adding that supporters should be "kissing his feet."

WHO SHOULD REAL MADRID BRING IN?

It's inevitable that Real will open their checkbook this summer in pursuit of a shiny new 'Galactico' or two, but the first priority should be to directly replace as many of Cristiano Ronaldo's goals as possible. 

Eden Hazard, Chelsea's Belgian magician, has been strongly linked with a move to Madrid this summer but, as fantastic a player as he is, he isn't known to be much of a goalscorer. Adrien Rabiot Paris Saint-Germain's wantaway midfielder has also been linked but that isn't going to address the goalscoring deficiency either.

Timo Werner, RB Leipzig's speedy frontman, would be a good fit to inject a new element to Madrid's attacking threat. Luka Jovic is another who has enjoyed a terrific season in the Bundesliga, though a move to a massive club is likely a season or two away for the 21-year-old.

In all likelihood, Real Madrid's vast resources will mean they do not remain down for too long, but for a club so conditioned in success, one thing is for sure: heads are going to roll if things don't improve, and fast.

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