Rafa Benitez's position at Real Madrid is under renewed scrutiny following the 1-0 defeat against Villarreal on 13 December, according to Marca. The Spanish publication claims the situation is at "breaking point" and that the La Liga giants have already identified club legend Zinedine Zidane as a replacement should they decide to part ways with the former Liverpool boss.
Club president Florentino Perez called a press conference on 23 November to hand the manager a vote of confidence after the humiliating 4-0 home defeat against Barcelona in the first El Clasico of the season, insisting Benitez was the right man to turn the situation round after taking over from Carlo Ancelotti in the summer.
Los Blancos had the chance to reduce the distance with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the top of the table over the weekend, after Barca could only draw with Deportivo de la Coruna.
However, Real blew the opportunity, losing to Villarreal and falling five points behind their Catalan nemeses. This was just days after the Bernabeu outfit were throw out of the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player in Denis Cheryshev.
Benitez had failed to convince fans and, according to reports, the players in his early months at the club, but until now he had the full support of the board.
Marca claims that the situation is now turning critical, with "credit starting to run out" for Benitez with the club's hierarchy.
The Spanish publication says that just 21 days after Perez gave his vote of confidence to Benitez following El Clasico "there are few that would go out on a limb to support his continued employment" – and that they have even already picked Real Madrid reserves manager Zidane to replace him should the decision be made.
Benitez was appointed to lead Real to success following a season without silverware, despite fears about his defensive football style. But results are worse than Ancelotti's at this point last season, and clashes with certain star players are becoming a burden for the manager too.
Real's next two home games against Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad, prior to the visit to Gary Neville's Valencia on 3 January, could be crucial for the Spaniard to avoid the sack.