Real Madrid head to ‘hell’ as Zidane faces crunch Champions League encounter
That is what Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane will face this week when they travel to take on Galatasaray at the famous cauldron that is the 52,000-seater Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
It’s a venue that has often been described as ‘hell’ by both home fans and visiting teams, such is the intensity and ferocity of the support for the home team.
Real arrive in Turkey having picked up just one point in their first two Champions League Group A games, getting hammered 3-0 by Paris Saint-Germain in their opener while scraping a 2-2 draw with Brugges at the Bernabeu the last time out.
Zidane’s team suffered a shock defeat to La Liga minnows Mallorca at the weekend, leaving the team second in the table, one point off Barcelona but with growing discontent over Los Blancos' uninspiring performances.
The second coming of club legend Zidane – who famously guided Real to a ‘threepeat’ of Champions League crowns as well as a La Liga title in his first spell in charge – is not going to plan.
The Frenchman has overseen expenditure of around €300 million on new talent as the likes of Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Ferland Mendy and Eder Militao have all come in, but they have largely failed to find their feet.
The burden on Hazard has been particularly immense given his price tag of in excess of €100 million and expectations that he could provide the same kind of electricity – if not goal output – as Cristiano Ronaldo.
But the Belgian has failed to spark consistently so far, while Serbian youngster Jovic – a €60 million summer arrival from Eintracht Frankfurt – has yet to find the net.
Real have scored just 18 times in 11 games this season, and are on a run of just one win in their last four games. At the back, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois continues to endure a torrid time and there are signs the Real faithful are fast turning on him. While Gareth Bale remains, he is also a far from happy member of the camp.
In midfield, Luka Modric is a willing but ageing force, while Isco’s form has been the subject of much concern in the Madrid press.
Domestically, sitting second just one point off the top may not seem like a disaster for Real, but the feeling is that with Lionel Messi now back from injury, Barcelona look set to gain momentum and start opening the gap.
Real have been scraping and scrambling, rather than playing the kind of free-flowing, free-scoring football their fans would expect.
All of this has led to talk that Jose Mourinho is being lined up by Real president Florentino Perez for a second spell at the Bernabeu.
Given the circumstances, the fixture in Turkey on Tuesday night appears to be a potentially integral one to Zidane’s future at Real.
The Frenchman can at least take some solace from the face that Galatasaray themselves are far from a happy ship at present. They ended a five-match winless run in official games with victory over Sivasspor in the Turkish Super Lig on Friday night, but sit fifth in the table and have scored just nine goals in their eight league games.
They drew 0-0 at Brugges in their first Champions League game, while suffering a 1-0 defeat at home to PSG in their second outing.
Manager Fatih Terim is under pressure in what is his third spell managing the club, while fans have booed the team at home games this season.
While the atmosphere on Tuesday night promises to be intense, Real Madrid have at least handled it before, beating Galatasaray 6-1 in a Champions League group encounter in Istanbul back in 2013 when managed by Carlo Ancelotti. Karim Benzema scored twice and Cristiano Ronaldo bagged a hat-trick that night as Real ran riot in the second half.
It’s very different circumstances for Real in Turkey this time around, but how Zidane would desperately love a similar outcome.