Real Madrid: Zidane's Clásico puzzle for Barcelona visit
Toni Kroos is expected to return for the huge LaLiga clash on Sunday after being 'tactically' left out of the Man City game, while Vinicius has surely shown enough...
Real Madrid come into Sunday's Clásico with plenty on the line and Zinedine Zidane knows that he has to solve his personnel puzzle where only a few pieces are obvious. The home defeat on Wednesday against Manchester City leaves their hopes of progressing in the Champions League dangling by a thread, and the starting line-up for the Barcelona clash is full of question marks.
Zidane's puzzle to complete
The first mystery area to be clarified is that of Toni Kroos. The German has generally been an undisputed midfielder for every manager that has been at Madrid since he moved there, including Zidane, of course. Since the local derby against Atlético on 1 February, however, when he was replaced at half-time, something appears to have been "broken" between player and coach. Against City, arguably the biggest game of the campaign to date, he was left on the bench, with Zizou confirming that he had no physical problem. It was simply a tactical decision. Against Barcelona, Kroos is expected to return to the XI, although it remains to be seen whether it will be for Modric, Valverde or Isco, or indeed if the manager surprises us again.
Vini stakes a claim
It feels logical for Vinicius to keep ownership of the left wing against Barcelona after being one of the most prominent stars for Los Blancos against City. Hazard's injury has re-opened that particular door to others, and the Brazilian came through an important casting audition to put him in the driving seat, if Zidane decides to go with a similar formation. Getting it right in that position was proving challenging to the manager but Wednesday's showing surely gave him enough evidence to know how to complete that part of the puzzle.
Another key aspect of the team that needs Zidane's attention is in the full-back positions. Following the departure of Odriozola, Dani Carvajal doesn't have much competition on the right, but the Spaniard wasn't at all convincing against the Premier League side midweek. Nacho is an alternative if the coach does not feel confident but it is likely that he'll continue to trust in his long-standing servant. On the left side it is more open. Ferland Mendy has consolidated his claim to be starter although Zizou maintains his idea of getting Marcelo back to his best and has been giving him opportunities to prove himself. A start in yet another Clásico would provide the Brazilian with further motivation and would add an extra attacking presence for the home side.
Much of the puzzle is complete ahead of the Liga showdown. Courtois, Varane, Ramos, Casemiro and Benzema all have their places secured, barring a late injury or illness. For the rest, Zidane must decide how best to get the team to function effectively, and a side that will give the appropriate reaction after the recent setbacks.