Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is reportedly "shocked" with the physical condition of the squad he's inherited from predecessor Rafa Benitez and holds reservations about the stamina of a particular trio of players.
According to Fernando Baquero of Spanish newspaper Sport, the Frenchman believes the players should be a lot fitter for this stage of the season, and he's formed "a work plan that will allow the team to recover."
Midfield pair Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez, along with right-back Danilo, are alleged to be the biggest culprits in the case, but Zidane has the means to pull Los Blancos back level with their Spanish peers.
Spanish website Fichajes recently linked Kroos and Rodriguez with moves away from the Bernabeu, illustrating their downward spiral in form at the club (h/t Metro's George Bellshaw). An extract of Baquero's report read:
Zidane thinks the lamentable physical condition of his team is the worst thing he has inherited from Rafa Benitez. Kroos and James are the worst off. The German didn't take care of himself from when pre-season started and is paying the consequences.
Benitez had to leave him on the bench on more than one occasion. The Colombian, it seems, has become too much of a fan of Madrid's nightlife and doesn't look anything like the player we saw last season.
Zidane is one who should know about stamina, longevity and the sacrifices it takes to succeed at the top level, having made 227 appearances for Los Merengues in his five years as a Real Madrid player.
During that spell, Zidane won a La Liga title, a Champions League crown, two Spanish Super Cups and more, not to mention earning 103 caps for France, with whom he won the 1998 FIFA World Cup and 2000 UEFA European Championship.
According to Baquero's report, Zidane doesn't feel his side are currently able to contend with the likes of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who sit two and four points in front of Los Blancos, respectively.
It's taken the former Galacticos superstar just four training sessions to get to grips with who among his players is and isn't ready to compete, and the club's official Twitter account chronicled his start to life as a manager:
Of the 18 goals Real Madrid have conceded in La Liga this season, eight have been leaked in the final 30 minutes of their fixtures, while three of those have been conceded in the final 10 minutes.
Despite Zidane's concerns, his team made a positive start to life under the Frenchman, winning 5-0 against Deportivo La Coruna on Jan. 9, leading captain Sergio Ramos to praise his manager, per Goal.com's Dom Farrell:
The coaching change has been good. I hope 2016 is a big year for Real Madrid. I think both Messi and Cristiano are two extra-terrestrials. Perhaps Leo has done the treble and won two more titles this season that compliment [Barcelona's] level. They are two megastars but maybe in the past year Leo had a little more.
The new plan Zidane is reported to have devised is aimed at getting the players prepared in time for the Champions League round of 16, with Real scheduled to face Roma in the first of two legs on Feb. 17.
Zidane demanded the highest standards of himself as a player, and it doesn't appear he's likely to settle for anything less as a manager either.