By passed by Atlético in La Liga, weighed down by absences, Real Madrid relies on the magic of the Champions League and its European talisman, Zinédine Zidane, to make a spell at Atalanta Bergamo on Wednesday in the eighth of final first leg (9:00 p.m.).
An unprecedented series of three coronations between 2016 and 2018 for his first term at Real, then … nothing.
Since March 2019, date of his return to the baton in Madrid, the mage Zidane seems to have lost part of his fluid in C1, eliminated by Manchester City (1-2, 1-2) in the eighth in 2020, then manhandled by the Shakhtar Donetsk in the group stage this fall (2-3, 0-2).
What raise questions among the supporters “Madrid”: is the Champions League still THE fetish competition of “Zizou”?
Difficult to get an idea, given the slew of injuries that have complicated the task of the Marseille technician since the start of 2021.
– Benzema package –
To the absences of Rodrygo, Fede Valverde, Alvaro Odriozola, Eden Hazard, Eder Militao and Marcelo were recently added those of the defender Dani Carvajal (right thigh) and especially the emblematic captain Sergio Ramos (operated on the internal meniscus of the left knee and unavailable until ‘ at the end of March), who still has not extended to Real while his contract expires on June 30.
Zidane himself was away from his team for a while at the end of January due to a positive Covid-19 test.
And, perhaps the most difficult absence to fill for “ZZ”, that of his goleador and compatriot Karim Benzema (17 goals this season), affected to an ankle against Valencia (2-0 on February 14 in La Liga). Absent from the Madrid group in Valladolid on Saturday in La Liga (1-0 success), “KB9” will not go to Italy, according to the group communicated Monday by Real.
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But even if Atalanta has made a strong impression in C1 since last season, where he had fallen only in additional time in the quarterfinals against Paris SG (2-1), the formation of Gian Piero Gasperini is approaching this eighth without excessive hopes against the favorites from Madrid … without leaving beaten as much against a Real who showed weaknesses in the group stage.
– Plank of salvation –
It remains that for Real, thirteen times winner of the European queen event, and for Zidane, crowned as a player (2002), as assistant coach (2014) and as head coach (2016-2018), the Champions League has often constituted a lifeline after periods of turmoil.
In November 2019, when Real sank and “ZZ” played his skin, the 6-0 victory against Galatasaray had allowed the Madrilenians to chain 21 matches without defeat until the beginning of February.
Then on December 9, the crucial victory against Borussia Mönchengladbach (2-0) allowed the Madrilenians to validate their ticket for the knockout stages of the Champions League as group first, and to chain 9 matches without defeat until mid-January.
“The players know that in a career, in a season, there are difficult times, but they also know that here, as a team, we can do great things,” he said in December after the group stage.
As a good manager of his squad, Zidane is now forced to give more offensive responsibilities to players who are not usually the first option.
This is the case of the young Brazilian Vinicius, from whom “Zizou” has been expecting a lot for three years, and of his compatriot Casemiro in the midfield, surprising Real’s 2nd top scorer this season after his victorious goal against Valladolid on Saturday in La Liga (1 -0), with 6 goals in all competitions.
Players who will have to come out of the shadows, to allow Zinédine Zidane to continue to stay in the light.