Real Madrid: Back to the 'A Team' against Atlético Madrid
Ferland Mendy's enforced absence aside, Real Madrid will take to the Wanda Metropolitano with the same team that won at Sevilla.
"You have to come up with a strategy to get results, and ensure your playing staff buy into your ideas - even when the going gets tough." This, in the words of the legendary César Luis Menotti, is what a football coach's job comes down to.
Well, after finding himself in the tightest spot so far of his second Real Madrid tenure, Zinedine Zidane certainly got the buy-in he needed from his players. With the pressure on, and rumours linking José Mourinho with his position, 'Zizou' steered his side to two key wins - making statement selection decisions in both.
Zidane keeps the faith - then activates 'Plan B'
Firstly, against Sevilla, Zidane kept faith in the line-up that flopped in Paris, Sergio Ramos coming in for Éder Militao in what was his only change to the XI. Then, three days later, the victory over Osasuna saw the sudden activation of 'Plan B', the Frenchman bringing eight new faces into the side (Alphonse Areola, Álvaro Odriozola, Militao, Nacho Fernández, Fede Valverde, Lucas Vázquez, Luka Jovic and Vinicius), despite the risk of fan fury if such a move went south.
After wins in which Madrid did not face a single shot on target, Zidane has emerged from Los Blancos' moment of crisis with his side sitting top of LaLiga, with his standing in the eyes of the club's hierarchy strengthened - and, above all, with a reinforced sense of authority over a first-team group in which everyone now feels they have their part to play.
In Saturday's derby at Atlético Madrid, Zidane is to return to the team he sent out in Seville, with the exception of the injured Ferland Mendy. Marcelo is still not ready to start, so Mendy's berth will again be taken by Nacho, while James Rodríguez is set to play as, like Marcelo, Luka Modric has not recovered sufficiently from injury. The Brazilian and the Croat will both be on the bench.
Having persuaded the likes of Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale to stick to their defensive duties so firmly at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán, Zidane will be asking his side for more of the same at the Wanda Metropolitano. And, significantly, Madrid's expected XI against Atlético includes seven men who were given a rest in midweek: Thibaut Courtois, Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, James, Bale, Karim Benzema and Hazard.
Read also: The next 'galácticos'
Real Madrid's expected XI against Atlético:
Zidane turns to 'Plan B' earlier than in 2016/17
Negotiating a packed fixture schedule by pretty much using two separate teams was an approach that helped Zidane guide Madrid to a historic league and Champions League double three seasons ago. That year, however, he did not actually bring his 'Plan B' into play until week 30 of the LaLiga campaign; this time around, it has made its first appearance in round six.
In 2016/17, figures such as Danilo, Fabio Coentrao, Mateo Kovacic, James, Marco Asensio, Nacho, Álvaro Morata, Lucas and Mariano Díaz came in and earned wins at Eibar, Leganés, Sporting Gijón, Deportivo and Granada - all between weeks 30 and 36. All the while, the 'A Team' were able to focus on rolling on through the Champions League knockout rounds, on their way to beating Juventus in the final.
Zidane has activated his two-team strategy far earlier this season. But the objective is the same: to win the Spanish and European titles.
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