“Are you serious, asking if I’ll leave? Last year we won the league. We did. Real Madrid. We won the league last year, not ten years ago. Show a bit of respect for that. You journalists say a lot of things. But you need to take some responsibility and start saying things to my face.”
That’s what a bullish Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane had to say as he returned from Covid-19 isolation to take charge of his first press conference since the back to back cup competition eliminations. Since then, Real have beaten Deportivo Alaves 4-1 with his assistant David Bettoni in charge, but then they suffered a limp 2-1 defeat to Levante last weekend, and no doubt they’ll be looking to bounce back.
The defending champions travel to face bottom of the table Huesca today at 16:15 CET, at the Estadio El Alcoraz, with their league title hopes hanging by the shortest of threads. Madrid currently sit 10 points adrift of league leaders Atletico Madrid, who also have a game in hand, so it could mean a 13 point gap.
To make matters worse, last week’s upset to Levante put Real down to third in the table, albeit level on points and a superior head to head against Barcelona, who now occupy second spot. For Real’s squad to turn up, it appears every game needs to be dubbed as a ‘final’, but Zidane clearly didn’t paint a picture of a content and calm man in his press conference. Pressure is certainly increasing on the Frenchman.
The key talking point
Los Merengues were rocked by the news that talisman Eden Hazard will miss between 3-5 weeks of action with yet another muscular injury, and that puts a spanner into the works for Zidane, who’s options are getting thinner by the matchday. Fortunately, they come up against the worst team in the top division, having lost three games out of their previous five.
Juan Jose Rojo Martin – known as Pacheta – has only had one game in charge of Huesca, and his first game was a 3-1 win over Real Valladolid last Friday. Rafa Mir was the star of the show with a hat-trick and he really showed how much of a menace he can be for opponents if the system is built around him. He really gave Bruno and Joaquín Fernández a lot to think about, whether that was using his peeling off the shoulder runs, or his general in-to-out movement which meant he couldn’t be contained.
Huesca will deploy a similar system against Madrid, considering Sergio Ramos is missing, and it’s likely to be Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez in the center of defence for Zidane. They can be beaten in the air, and both have a tendency to fall asleep and miss runs in behind, and so it’ll be interesting to see how many long balls or crosses Huesca put in from wide areas for Rafa to pounce upon. For Madrid to win this game, they’ll need to get Luka Modric playing closer to Karim Benzema and thus, closer to the Huesca box, which he didn’t do at all against Levante – meaning Real suffered badly in creativity.
Benzema too had a poor outing against Levante, so the Frenchman’s combination with Marco Asensio – who is beginning to look good again – and Vinicius Junior, who will no doubt be starting, should be enough on paper against the league’s bottom club. But a new manager swing is dangerous, and Real have unfortunately timed this fixture poorly, Huesca will be well up for the challenge and an upset.
The hosts are again going to be without Pedro Mosquera, Sandro Ramirez, Antonio Valera, Juan Carlos and Pablo Insua, who are all injured, but Javi Ontiveros will return after serving his one-game suspension. It’s likely Pacheta will field the same starting XI which beat Valladolid comfortably.
As for the visitors, Zidane only named a 17-man squad, as Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Lucas Vazquez, Fede Valverde and Rodrygo Goes are joined by Hazard and Isco on the sidelines. Eder Militao is suspended for his straight red card against Levante last weekend, but Zidane has drafted in the two Real Madrid Castilla players – Victor Chust and Marvin Park – thought oddly, their teammate Sergio Arribas misses out.
The last time they met?
Real were comfortable in their last fixture against Huesca, beating them 4-1 on matchday eight back in October. Hazard opened the scoring, Benzema scored twice either side of Fede’s goal, while David Ferreiro pulled one back as a consolation when Real were 3-0 ahead. Madridistas can only hope for more of the same this afternoon.