Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane on the brink
Frenchman's job could be in jeopardy if Los Blancos fail to make it past the Champions League group stage for the first time
Real Madrid value success in the Champions League above all else, but the 13-time champions head into their final Group B game against Borussia Moenchengladbach tomorrow morning (Singapore time) with their qualification hopes hanging by a thread.
Should they suffer a humiliating group-stage exit, ending their remarkable run as the only team to ever avoid elimination at this phase, coach Zinedine Zidane's future will be at risk.
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A win for either side in the Spanish capital will guarantee them passage through to the last 16.
If Real draw and Shakhtar Donetsk win or draw with Inter Milan in the other group match, the Spanish giants will be out.
Reports in the Spanish capital have linked Real with former Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino, currently without a club, should they part ways with Zidane. Meanwhile, Real Madrid Castilla coach Raul Gonzalez, a prolific striker for the club in the past, has been touted as a "Plan B".
Real were eliminated by Manchester City at the last-16 stage last season. That exit was mitigated by the capture of the La Liga title, but another early failure in Europe may prove to be the final straw for trigger-happy president Florentino Perez.
But Zidane insisted that he is not worried about his job.
He said: "The club will do what they have to do (in the event of not qualifying), as they always do, but I'm only thinking about the game."
The Frenchman will be boosted by the return of captain Sergio Ramos and right-back Dani Carvajal, key players in the Real defence, but will miss record signing Eden Hazard.
Moenchengladbach coach Marco Rose believes Real will rise to the occasion, saying: "Such teams function best under pressure. We also saw that against Inter Milan."
He was referring to Real's 2-0 and 3-2 wins over Inter that kept them alive in the group stage.
A draw will be enough for both Real and Moenchengladbach to go through, should Inter defeat Shakhtar, leading to conspiracy theories in the Italian media.
But Inter coach Antonio Conte insisted that he has faith in the other teams.
"This is the Champions League - we are talking about big clubs, not a kickabout in the park," he said. "I'm not at all worried about what will happen in Madrid, let's not talk about other matches.
"I hope the media don't focus too much on rumours about a mutually beneficial result. It's depressing to hear about it. This is all conjecture: Inter, Shakhtar, Real and Borussia will all play to win their own games."
Conte will be counting on the red-hot Romelu Lukaku, who scored a double in a 3-2 win over Moenchengladbach last time out to keep the Italian giants on course to reach the knockout stage for the first time since the 2011/12 season.
Lukaku has bagged four goals in as many European games this season, with 12 goals in 13 games in all. - REUTERS, AFP
- Inter Milan v Shakhtar Donetsk
- Real Madrid v B. M'gladbach