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Zidane versus Koeman in El Clásico

It looks like Zidane is doing it again. He returned to take over a Real Madrid side that had become stagnant, a team which had lost its explosive power when Cristiano left and with a squad which had been hugely successful but was also aging and the recent arrivals delivered little. Even so, they managed to lift the league title in a season rocked by the pandemic – it was a sprint to the finish and Madrid’s veterans made a concerted effort to get over the line. Others would argue that practically all of the VAR decision went in Madrid’s favour. But this year the team got off to a poor start and at one point looked like they might be eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage.

Zidane paced Madrid's season

So he was held under suspicion for much of those early months of the campaign, and while Madrid lagged behind in LaLiga, it looked like Atlético were going to run away with the title. But Zidane has done it again. Once again with his old guard, again without Hazard, with that unhurried, easy-going manner of his – only this time with a smaller squad – those players in reserve were all offloaded to save money so that Madrid could renovate their stadium. He has somehow managed to get the very best out of players like Varane, Modric, Casemiro, Kroos and Benzema – as well as priceless fringe players like Lucas Vázquez and Nacho. Now it’s not even such a big deal if Sergio Ramos can’t play. Now Vinicius is finishing off moves and Asensio is reborn.

Koeman rides through Barcelona turmoil

Koeman can feel equally as pleased with how the season has gone for him. He arrived at Barça when it was an absolute madhouse, with the president entangled in a right mess, Messi in a sulk and with a gaping hole in central defence due to constant injuries or a succession of mistakes. He cut a forlorn figure on the bench during September and October, when Barça appeared to be falling apart at the seams. At one point they were 13 points behind Atlético. That gap is now just one point. Zidane and Koeman, two men of few words but who keep plugging away, will come face to face tomorrow at the Di Stéfano in a Clásico which could decide who wins LaLiga. Both of them deserve to win.