“Confidence boosted after the Inter game? Yes – confidence is key. Any team playing against Real Madrid comes out giving their 100%, it gets difficult for us – we need to be so consistent, we need to give our 150%.”
That was Zinedine Zidane’s most significant message in his pre-match press conference ahead of Real Madrid’s clash against Deportivo Alaves this evening. Despite an unexpectedly comfortable win against Inter Milan on Wednesday, the focus now switches back to La Liga, where the defending champions have some catching up to do in the league table.
Back to back disappointing results against Valencia and Villarreal saw Madrid dropping five points, against two rivals who they played relatively well against, just saw moments go against them at decisive stages. But with a cluster of fixtures approaching over a short period of time, Zidane hinted at the need to rotate heavily come today’s match on home soil.
This could mean a return to the starting XI for Isco and Marcelo, two players who have struggled to get minutes at all this season. Zidane will hope Eden Hazard and Martin Ødegaard will continue progressing in the positive manner that they have with their two starting cameos so far, and both will once more be responsible for the vertical set-up in the team.
Three points for Madrid could take them into the top three, if results elsewhere go their way. And they’ll know this is a winnable game, against an opponent who have struggled, but have also stuck to their rigid and tight at the back gameplan against certain opponents. They come into this one having drawn their last three games, and yet, while that may not seem impressive, two of those draws have come against Barcelona and Valencia. It’s a team which can prove to be tough to break down at times, especially for the bigger clubs, because of their compact defensive structure, but they shouldn’t pose Madrid’s defence too many issues, as long as there aren’t any self-inflicted errors which are a common theme with Real.
The key talking point
Against Valencia last time out, Alaves were 2-0 up, but they were in fact lucky not to lose the match. Their defensive frailties really came to the fore against Los Che, particularly when their full-backs are pushed up high, it’s particularly risky for them if they lose possession, allowing teams to counter at them. Valencia did it a number of times, not only with long balls over the top of their back three. It’s likely they stick with their five at the back for Madrid, with two inverted wing backs, to stop Madrid getting success on the flanks, and forcing them to push centrally to play through them instead.
Now that’s an area where Madrid have struggled this season, and that could be a reason for Marcelo and Isco to return, and shine as well. Along with Hazard, and either Toni Kroos or Luka Modric, it’ll be important for Zidane to have as much creative flair as possible on the pitch, to try and play through what will be a determined Alaves defensive unit.
There were similar themes in their priceless draw against Barcelona too, although they went down to 10-men in that one at the hour mark. But before that, Ansu Fati and Antoine Griezmann had plenty of chances in behind, and that’s where Madrid will need to hurt them too. Passes in behind or breaking the lines, to set up Mariano Diaz who should be the lone forward.
It doesn’t get any easier for Zidane in terms of squad depth, it’s very much a theme of one step forward and two steps back. Alvaro Odriozola, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Federico Valverde were already definitely out of the game, they’ve now been joined by Dani Carvajal for another couple of weeks with a muscle injury, having just returned from several weeks out.
Luka Jovic still hasn’t tested negative after his positive Covid-19 test following the International Break, but Eder Militao has passed a test, and he is the one returning to the squad.
As for the visitors, Pere Pons is out with a foot injury, and Manu Garcia tested positive for Coronavirus. It’s likely to be a similar side to the one that faced Valencia, with Joselu and Lucas Perez up front trying to cause Madrid issues.
The last time they met
In this fixture last year, Madrid won 2-0 at the Alfredo Di Stefano, courtesy of a penalty from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio clinched the victory in the second half. And the game earlier in the season away at Alaves was a 2-1 win for Madrid, Ramos and Carvajal scoring either side of a Lucas spot-kick.
There should be goals in this one, but the focus will be on Zidane’s rotations, and the hunger of players such as Marcelo, Isco and Asensio, who are expected to start later this evening. Intensity is what Zidane is craving, “150%” is what Real need.