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The pressure on Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid is well and truly at boiling point. And as the defending champions visit the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan to take on Sevilla this afternoon at 16:15, it’s likely that the pressure will only increase should the capital club fail to bounce back from back to back defeats as they enter a difficult month in their season calendar.

Madrid’s defeats to Deportivo Alaves and Shakhtar Donetsk have raised major question marks over Zidane’s future as head coach, and a tough trip to Seville is never a favourable place for Real to visit at the best of times, let alone in this state. They come into this contest in fourth place, against a side sat fifth in the table, and against Julen Lopetegui – a former Real coach who would want nothing more than to get one over on his former employers, who dismissed him fairly swiftly.

Regular injuries to key men in Zidane’s plans have stalled his project up until this point, and if there was ever a time to prove his credentials as a tactician, this game will silent a lot of his critics, should a stuttering Real escape with three crucial points.


Sevilla themselves come into this battered and bruised, after their 4-0 defeat to Chelsea in midweek. But they were one of Spain’s form teams before that UEFA Champions League group stage defeat, with five wins on the bounce in all competitions, a run that briefly saw them hit the summit of La Liga. And although they’re one point behind Madrid in the league table, they still hold a game in hand over the reigning league champions.

The key talking point

Although goals are hard to come by for Madrid right now, the surprising element of this season has seen their poor defensive record, compared to their stability at the back last season, which ultimately was decisive in their run to win the championship. This season, Real have conceded 12 goals already, that’s almost half of the 25 goals they conceded throughout the 2019-20 campaign, and we’re only 10 games deep so far. Without the guidance and structural coordination of Sergio Ramos, they appear to collapse under pressure and Sevilla are definitely a side they’ll struggle to keep out.

It’ll be crucial for players like Casemiro, Raphael Varane and Ferland Mendy to show up and act as leaders, which they have failed to do up until this point. This game will undeniably be decided by whichever side can pull their opponents out of their defensive lines, to create chances in behind the attacking full-backs who will be venturing high up the pitch.

During Sevilla’s 1-1 draw against Barcelona back in October, it was obvious you can get at them down Jesus Navas’ flank, with the veteran more often than not camped in the opposition half, this allowed Ronald Koeman to focus heavily on having Lionel Messi situated between the lines, and he was regularly playing balls in behind the on-rushing Sevilla central defenders to Jordi Alba and the wingers. That’s where Barca’s main chances came from, so to replicate that, it would surprise me if Zidane didn’t go for either Isco or Martin Ødegaard, or both, in a diamond formation, to control the middle of the park.

In the very little time he’s been at Real, Ødegaard has proven to be the player who can make the difference in terms of creativity and progression of the attacks. He’s more often than not involved in the positive transitions Madrid have made, he now needs to take it up a notch and start creating chances for his teammates as he so frequently did at Real Sociedad last season. The main difference is that Real’s attackers aren’t making those available runs which the likes of Aleksander Isak or Mikel Oyarzabal would make. That’s a tactical flaw in Zidane’s plans, and he needs to address that. Players like Rodrygo Goes, Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior and Marco Asensio have the capabilities of making these intelligently timed runs, but more often than not, Madrid’s main forward, Benzema, finds himself occupying areas which Ødegaard should be, and that creates an attacking dilemma because the opposing box doesn’t have a Madrid forward. Without having a focal point in attack, it makes it really difficult for Madrid to score regularly and convert the chances that they certainly regularly create.

Team news

Zidane is still without the services of his captain Ramos, who has now returned to training and is in line to return in midweek. Alongside Ramos, three other definite starters in Federico Valverde, Eden Hazard and Dani Carvajal are also out of the squad with injuries, while Luka Jovic hasn’t trained enough since testing negative for Covid-19. Alvaro Odriozola is back however, and the former Sociedad player could be pushed into the starting XI immediately, as the sole out and out right-back.

For the hosts, Sergio Escudero, Marcos Acuna and Suso are out through injury, while Carlos Fernandez and Yassine Bounou recently tested positive for Coronavirus, so they aren’t in the squad either.

The last time they met

Oddly, Madrid boast a good record against Sevilla in their three most recent meetings. Real have beaten them in each of their last three La Liga games, including a 1-0 victory in the corresponding fixture last season. A win is absolutely essential, and non-negotiable for Zidane today, because anything but the three points could only hasten Florentino Perez’ regretful decision of replacing the Frenchman, as the pressure on the president increases at boardroom level.


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