Real Madrid delivered a suitably dreadful end to their miserable season, and Gareth Bale was not even given the chance to say a likely goodbye, as Zinedine Zidane’s side were beaten 2-0 at home to Real Betis on Sunday.
Zidane had indicated this could be Bale’s final game ahead of an expected summer departure but the Welshman was left on the bench, made to watch on as three substitutes came on ahead of him at the Santiago Bernabeu.
None were able to revive another dreary and disjointed Madrid performance, which concluded both the season and first phase of Zidane’s much-hailed return as coach.
“The best thing for us is that it’s over and we can think about next year,” he said afterwards. “Because things will change, for sure.”
As the players saluted the fans at the end, they were greeted by a chorus of whistles.
By then, Bale was already off down the tunnel, perhaps aware that any attempt at a farewell could be given an even colder reception.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t give Bale minutes today,” Zidane said. “But I don’t know what’s going to happen, I have to make decisions based on today and the match.”
Zidane will rightly not be held culpable for most of Madrid’s failings this season, including finishing third in La Liga, 18 points behind Barcelona and eight adrift of Atletico Madrid, not to mention crashing out of the Champions League in the last 16.
He will also not be blamed for their league total of 68 points, their lowest in 17 years, nor the 12 defeats. Real Madrid have not had more in a single league campaign since 1974.
But even if few expected the deep-rooted problems to vanish after Zidane’s arrival in March, most Madrid fans would have hoped at least for signs of improvement.
Instead, they have now won five of his 11 games in charge this season and out of the last five have won one and lost three. Some of the displays, including this one, were as bad as anything seen under either Julen Lopetegui or Santiago Solari.
“There are no excuses,” Zidane said. “It has been difficult from the start of the season and now at the end with me. That is the reality.”
He has promised change over the summer and many in his squad here could leave goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who was the subject of several affectionate chants during the game, as well as Nacho, Sergio Reguilon, Isco, Marcos Llorente and Bale.
If this was to be Bale’s last appearance after six seasons, in which there have been numerous injuries but several trophies too, including four in the Champions League, it seemed a sorry way not to say goodbye.
Setien could also be on his way this summer, after a turbulent season in charge of Betis, who were in contention for Europe but instead finish 10th.
“I will not say anything about my future,” said Setien afterwards. “In the coming hours the club will release a statement.”
Marcelo flashed an early shot inches wide but the best chance fell to Karim Benzema, who hit the post after Raphael Varane’s harmless cross was skewed straight to him by Francis Guerrero.
Navas’ fingertips pushed over a lob from the excellent Giovani Lo Celso before an uneventful half was ended by a smattering of whistles from the home fans.
It would get worse after half-time. Benzema passed up two good openings in the box and Vinicius Junior turned Aissa Mandi inside-out but was denied by the feet of Pau Lopez.
Betis looked dangerous in behind Madrid’s defence, with Dani Carvajal lucky only to be cautioned for preventing Junior Firpo from sprinting clear.
But the warning went unheeded as Andres Guardado was next to race through and he provided the perfect pass to the back post where Loren could hardly miss.
Lo Celso might have made it two before Jese, once of Real Madrid and a product of their youth system, finaly did. For the last time this season, the home fans made their feelings known at the final whistle.
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