Real Madrid Zidane goes head-to-head with Guardiola
The Champions League occasionally throws up blockbuster ties within the first knockout round, often due to one of the biggest clubs in Europe underperforming in the group stage, and that is exactly what has happened this term with Real Madrid having to solve several problems in the two weeks before they face English champions, Manchester City.
The clash will mark the first time Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola have done battle as coaches, however the Frenchman has a number of issues troubling him ahead of the meeting, although it could be argued that the Blues have problems of their own.
There are 15 days between now and the clash at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, although Los Blancos are in an even stronger position than they were when the draw was made.
City were still seen as favourites for the tournament in some quarters back then, whilst Zidane‘s resurgence had only just begun.
What we’ve seen since from Los Merengues is a 20-match unbeaten run and the first trophy of the season in the form of the Supercopa de Espana.
Copa del Rey elimination at the hands of Real Sociedad has opened up Los Blancos’ calendar somewhat, and as a result they will arrive in both legs against Manchester City with a comfortable amount of rest.
Whilst on paper this sounds like a good thing, there is a possibility that Real Madrid could be somewhat underprepared with the club having no match in the week prior to the first leg and then there will only be two LaLiga matches between Champions League encounters.
The Belgian forward has been battling to be fit for the Champions League restart, and it looks as if he is going to make it just in time to face Manchester City.
Zidane has a fixed starting XI for important matches and often resists changing it, however Hazard‘s return is likely to see the forward pushed straight back into the team.
Just how fit he is remains to be seen, but if we are to assume he will be ready to go in the first leg, either Isco or Luka Modric would drop out, with only one of those midfielders able to occupy an attacking midfield role.
If, for some reason, Zidane opts to leave Hazard on the bench then either Gareth Bale, Vinicius Jr or Rodrygo could fill the role on the left flank.
Raheem Sterling is Manchester City’s most potent attacker alongside Sergio Aguero, with the former Liverpool sensation vastly improving his game under Guardiola‘s tutelage.
After adding goals to his arsenal, Sterling has often appeared unplayable for most defences, yet there are doubts as to whether Zidane needs to plan for him at all.
A hamstring injury is set to keep the English international out for a number of weeks and with the Premier League title race essentially over, the Blues won’t rush the forward back into action before he is ready.
This leaves the Carabao Cup final as a potential opening for Sterling, however there are slight hopes he could play some part in the first leg in Madrid.
Whilst Leroy Sane has returned to training, he won’t play, and as such Zidane will have to make a choice to gameplan for Sterling or not.
Riyad Mahrez or Gabriel Jesus would likely take his place, and either player brings something different to the team, which is potentially a headache for the French coach as he tries to establish a way to eliminate one of the pre-tournament favourites and continue his own storied history with the Champions League.
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