"We will play these last three games and then this is finally over," the Madrid coach said after seeing his team get outplayed and outhustled by then last-place Rayo. The result practically ended the team's chances of catching Atletico Madrid for second place. If Madrid can't erase the nine-point difference over the final matches, it will finish out the top two in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1973-74.
A day before the disappointing performance against Rayo, Madrid fans had to endure seeing Barcelona clinch its second straight league title, and eighth in 11 seasons. And in a few days, fans will watch Barcelona — along with Liverpool, Tottenham and Ajax — compete in the first leg of the semifinals of the Champions League, the tournament Madrid won the last three years.
Zidane was uncharacteristically upset after the setback against Rayo, the team's fourth in six matches. "I'll always defend my players, but not today," Zidane said. "We can't play like that, and I'm responsible as well. We didn't do anything. We have to apologize."
Madrid was coming off a scoreless draw at Getafe and previously had drawn with Leganes and lost to Valencia, all in away matches. Zidane has a perfect record at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, with four victories, but has yet to win away.
"At least against Getafe we showed some good things, we created some chances," Zidane said. "But we didn't do anything today. Nothing from Minute 1 to Minute 90." When Zidane took over from Santiago Solari eight matches ago, with the team in tatters, he said the main goal was to rebuild for next season, but also to regain confidence after one of its most disappointing campaigns in years. Madrid was off to a good start under Zidane, with three wins in four matches, but risks finishing the season on another low.
Madrid was 12 points behind Barcelona and two points behind Atletico when Zidane arrived. Now it is 18 points from the Catalan club and nine below its city rival. Instead of just focusing on which players to keep and how to improve the squad for next season, Zidane will also have to make sure the team plays good enough to please the club's demanding fans in the final matches.
Madrid will host relegation-threatened Villarreal next weekend, then visits midtable Real Sociedad before closing out the season at home again against Real Betis. With little at stake through the end, Zidane said Madrid needs to play for pride.
"We can't finish like this, with this image," the Frenchman said. "We have to show some respect for the game and for the club. We will have to play better."
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