Zidane shelves league intentions as Madrid shift focus to Europe

Zidane made several changes ahead of Tuesday’s Group A game away at Galatasaray. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2019

Zidane shelves league intentions as Madrid shift focus to Europe

  • Real Madrid coach made several changes ahead of Tuesday’s Group A game

MADRID: Zinedine Zidane said in April Real Madrid would prioritize La Liga over the Champions League this season and their defeat to Real Mallorca on Saturday suggests they may not have the squad to go far in both.

“For us next year, the league must be our No. 1 priority,” Zidane said.

“It’s the longest competition, it’s the one that cannot be missed, and I’m going to put that in the heads of my players.”

Yet Zidane made several changes ahead of Tuesday’s Group A game away at Galatasaray and those who came in failed to impressed, with a blunt performance against Mallorca revealing familiar failings up front and causing Madrid to slip to their first league defeat of the campaign.

Some of the adjustments were enforced as Eden Hazard was absent following the birth of his fourth child on Friday while Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale were all nursing injuries of varying severity.

Others were seemingly chosen as Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal were rested, along with Fede Valverde, who had brought much-needed energy into the midfield before the international break.

Bale’s calf injury is believed to be minor but was considered too much of a risk and will also miss the trip to Turkey along with Ballon d’Or winner Modric.

Heavy rotation points to a belief in the utmost importance of the game against Galatasaray and a recognition from Zidane that Madrid cannot afford another misstep in Europe.

“The problem is we have to show every three days that we are good,” Zidane said on Saturday.

“That is our difficulty and that is what we do not do. We must have consistency. We have to have more life in our game if we want to do important things this year.”

They sit bottom of the group, with just one point from their opening two games and the prospect of failing to make the knock-out stages for the first time in the Champions League still faint, but a possibility nonetheless.

It also suggests for all the good intentions about consistency in La Liga and wrestling back some of the domination enjoyed by Barcelona over the last decade, for Real Madrid the Champions League perhaps never plays second fiddle.

After all, it was in the Champions League that Zidane forged his reputation as a coach, three triumphs in a row almost eradicating from memory his more disappointing period in the domestic league and cups.

Zidane might have weighed up that there is time and games to recuperate in La Liga that do not exist in Europe but losing to Mallorca does not come without a cost.

After five games unbeaten, doubts have returned about his team and the spotlight is back on their Frenchman.

Perhaps he hoped for more from those that came in. Isco, Luka Jovic and Vinicius Junior were all taken off in the second half on Saturday and while Vinicus is young and Jovic recently signed, it remains to be seen how long it might take to regain Zidane’s trust.

Alvaro Odriozola, in for Carvajal at right-back, was at fault for the goal and then sent off.

“Injuries are part of football,” Zidane said.

“There were other players and we had to do better.”

When Madrid won the league under Zidane in 2017, he successfully rotated in games against lesser sides but, despite around 300 million euros ($300 million) spent last summer, his squad might not have the same depth.

Galatasaray have won only four of their opening eight Super Lig games and have not reached the Champions League last 16 since 2014.

But Madrid cannot be complacent, having lost three of their last four visits to the Turkish giants.

Zidane’s hopes of progress will be transformed with a victory but he might need his best players back to do it.

Related


Dortmund, Favre face tough questions after Bayern’s ‘big step’

Updated 29 May 2020

Dortmund, Favre face tough questions after Bayern’s ‘big step’

  • Several German newspapers have suggested Favre is set to leave at the end of the season

BERLIN: Borussia Dortmund visit bottom side Paderborn on Sunday with uncertainty surrounding the future of coach Lucien Favre after Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat by Bayern Munich left their Bundesliga title dreams in tatters.

Favre and Dortmund were forced to deny rumors that he is set to resign, and face Paderborn attempting to at least keep some pressure on reigning champions Bayern, who sit seven points clear with six matches remaining.

Second-placed Dortmund may also have to make do without Erling Braut Haaland, after the teenage sensation was injured against Bayern, reportedly in an accidental collision with the referee.

Swiss Favre was forced to clarify comments made on Tuesday when he said he would “talk about it (his future) in a few weeks,” saying the following day that he was not “giving up at all.”

Several German newspapers have suggested Favre is set to leave at the end of the season, with Niko Kovac, who was sacked by Bayern last year, reported to be his likely successor.

“We are certainly not having a coaching debate,” Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc insisted to Sport1.

“Lucien must have expressed himself misleadingly in a moment immediately after the game.”

Barring an unlikely late-season collapse from Bayern, it will be the second straight season that Favre’s Dortmund have pushed their rivals close in the title race before ultimately coming up short.

Dortmund led for much of the campaign last term but stumbled late to finish two points off the pace.

“We said before the season that we wanted to play for the title again,” added Zorc.

“We didn’t manage to be better than Bayern. Now we can be disappointed, take a deep breath, and then set a new goal for Sunday. Full focus is on second place.”

Dortmund will be confident of getting back on track against a Paderborn side who are rooted to the foot of the table, eight points adrift of the relegation playoff spot, despite three consecutive draws since the Bundesliga resumed following the coronavirus lockdown.

“We mustn’t talk of a miracle because there are still 18 points to be won,” said Paderborn coach Steffen Baumgart.

“As long as it’s still mathematically possible we have to give it everything we’ve got.”

Bayern are now firmly on track for a record-extending eighth straight title and on Saturday host a Fortuna Duesseldorf side who boosted their survival hopes with a 2-1 midweek win against freefalling Schalke.

“We set out to take a big step (against Dortmund). We succeeded. We showed a lot of determination,” said Bayern coach Hansi Flick.

Duesseldorf, who occupy the relegation playoff spot, are five points clear of second-bottom Werder Bremen, although the four-time Bundesliga champions have a game in hand.

Bremen, who have only spent one season out of the top flight since the Bundesliga’s formation in 1963, visit Schalke on Saturday.

Schalke coach David Wagner is under pressure after his side threw away their European hopes with a 10-match winless run, including three straight defeats since the restart of the season.

Dortmund will need Jadon Sancho to be back at his best on Sunday, with Haaland’s injury leaving them without a recognized out-and-out striker.

English winger Sancho is yet to start a game since the restart after his own fitness problems, but has featured as a subsitute in all three matches.

The 20-year-old has scored 17 goals in all competitions this season.