Zinedine Zidane in the process of rescuing Real Madrid's lost season
What only six weeks ago looked like a season on the brink of total failure is progressively turning into one with serious potential to finish on a positive note for Real Madrid.
On the last Saturday of February, Atletico Madrid defeated Zinedine Zidane's team at the Bernabeu, prompting the French manager to state: "La liga está acabada" (La Liga is over [for us]). The loss left Real Madrid a far cry from the top of the table, but it was especially the disappointing performance of the team who struggled mightily to create very few chances, that led Zidane and the rest of the stadium to give up the hope of a successful end of the season.
Having been knocked out of the Copa del Rey because of an administrative error and unable to keep pace in La Liga, the final stages of the Champions League tournament seemed also out of the question.
Since that defeat, the team took its fans for a ride on an emotional roller coaster that included three authoritative wins at home -- Celta (7-1), Sevilla and Eibar (both 4-0). There was also a very lucky 2-1 win in Las Palmas and the embarrassing 2-0 Champions League defeat in Wolfsburg. There were also two huge victories, a 2-1 Clasico win vs. Barcelona and Tuesday's 3-0 fightback against Wolfsburg that are the basis for the current wave of optimism.
The triumph in Barcelona was probably the first moment of the season in which Zidane's team showed real character and mental strength to win against all odds, as the victory seemed as unlikely before kick-off as it did for most of the match.
Tuesday's 3-0 defeat of Wolfsburg not only took the team to the semifinals of the tournament, but also proved that things have finally started to fall into place for Real Madrid.
The first reason for optimism is that, after a sequence of changes in his lineup, Zidane finally has found a starting XI that shows remarkable balance between attack and defence. Having finally resolved the uneven fight between Danilo Silva and Daniel Carvajal in favour of the latter, and the introduction of Casemiro as a defensive midfielder has solved most of the issues the squad had with other midfield combinations. Surrounded by Luka Modric and Toni Kroos and counting on a more defensive-minded than usual front three -- Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo -- this squad looks like they can beat any opponent on a given day.
There's obviously work to do so that the team plays more cohesively, and that should improve over the next few matches.
For instance, during the first half of the home win against Wolfsburg, Modric spent too much time away from the ball, almost in the final third of the pitch. Although Casemiro has brought impressive defensive capabilities to the team, with his presence allows Modric and Kroos to venture forward, the Brazilian's ball-handling skills are not solid enough that he can carry the build-up plays alone.
When the team started a play from the back against Wolfsburg, Casemiro rarely participated, let alone led the first few initial passes. Modric and Kroos needed to take a main role helping out the centre-backs to bring the ball up, and Zidane obviously saw that, in the case of the Croatian, was not happening as often as it should.
After the interval, Modric stayed closer to the ball and took matters in his own boots. Real Madrid benefited hugely from the adjustment, as Modric's omnipresence during the second half meant more possession and better attacking moves.
If that midfield puzzle works, the rest will become much easier. Both full-backs look sharp, the front three only needs two of them tuned in to wreak havoc in the opposition's defence. With the full squad at his disposal, there's enough talent off the bench to cover for players in doubtful shape, such as Sergio Ramos, or to change the pace, like with Jese Rodriguez or James Rodriguez.
If the side is growing in confidence, so is the public, and this is probably the biggest of Zidane's achievements.
After he took over, he quickly won over the dressing room, but the team's lack of consistency had many fans doubting his real skills to manage a top-level club.
His patient management of both the team and the media has brought some results already: The off the pitch gossip regarding the team, quite intense under Rafael Benitez, has all but disappeared. On top of that, the feeling that the squad is somehow maturing at the right point of the season has brought many supporters back on Zidane's bandwagon.
That does not mean all issues are over. The Champions League semifinals will test Zidane's approach with all their might, as Manchester City, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich have played with solid systems for much longer than Real Madrid have.
Domestically, the team still trails two extraordinary squads in La Liga, and needs that both drop points in order to have a shot at the title. All the progress made in the last month in La Liga could vanish if they fail to win on Saturday at Getafe, an apparently easy away match, the kind that has been their Achilles' heel this season (five draws and two losses in 15 matches).
But a convincing win in Getafe would confirm the good vibrations the team has started to generate. And with the Bernabeu finally on their side, anything can happen in this final six weeks of the season.
Eduardo is one of ESPN FC's Real Madrid bloggers and has been a socio since 1995. Follow him on Twitter @alvarez.