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Hardest test for Zidane. Can Real Madrid stand out in coming weeks?

Zinedine Zidane will face the hardest test as Real Madrid’s coach since winning the Champions League cup. The French manager has been able to record stable results and his team is now leading the Spanish league. However, they are going to face both of their direct rivals in upcoming 2 weeks. First, they visit Vicente Calderon for a meeting with city rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday. Then follows a travel to Lisbon, where reigning champions will face Sporting CP in a UCL group stage game. Finally, on December 3, Zidane’s men will have to prove their superiority in Camp Nou against Barcelona.

A tough fixture, isn’t it? The situation has been complicated by the numerous injuries, which left some important players out of the squad. Toni Kroos is out for a long period, while Casemiro and Pepe haven’t recovered from their health problems yet and are very unlikely to feature against Atletico Madrid. Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos are back to the team, but their fitness is still far from the ideal. Adding Mateo Kovacic’s injury that he’s picked up in Croatia squad, Zidane’s problems get more and more.

Two of his predecessors – Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benitez – found it hard to succeed at Vicente Calderon. Now it’s Zidane’s turn to take this challenge. While the glory of a victory could propel Real to a strongly desired league title come May, and an immediate nine point lead over their city rivals, a loss could see them squander top spot at the start of a perilous run of games. The last coach who managed to record incredible results in away matches against Atletico was Jose Mourinho, who not only won all 4 matches at the Calderon but also conceded only 3 goals. Then Carlo Ancelotti replaced him on the bench and won only once in 6 away derbies. Rafa Benitez was given only one opportunity to take three points but was able to muster a 1-1 draw.

Zidane is now considering two playing schemes that he can use against Atleti. The first option is 4-3-3 with the following line-up: Keylor Navas, Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Isco, Bale, Benzema/Morata, Ronaldo. This positioning is close to Zidane’s most preferred alignment, while Kroos’s and Casemiro’s absence may be a shocking knock to the Blancos’s defensive capabilities. The risk is high enough to count only on this tactics. That’s why Zidane has a Plan B for this clash. He can also play with 4-4-2, where neither Benzema, nor Morata will start the match. The following players are likely to feature in this Plan B: Navas, Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Asensio/Vazquez, Kovacic, Modric, Isco, Bale, Ronaldo. This alignment is more conservative and defensive, but it weakens the attacking power. However, Asensio or Vazquez can offer some tactical superiority in midfield positions and contribute to moving the ball faster between the lines.

Diego Simeone’s Atletico also play with a 4-4-2 tactical arrangement. Their starting XI is more than predictable as Simeone doesn’t have a habit of inventing new things in important matches, and he’d rather count on his proved men: Oblak, Juanfran, Savic, Godin, Filipe Luis, Saul, Gabi, Koke, Carrasco, Griezmann, Gameiro.

Only three days and we will have the answer to the first question: can Zidane and his team stand out and boost their chances of winning the La Liga title after 4 years of struggle. One thing is evident, they won’t have an easy walk at Vicente Calderon, and chances are really equal.

Gevorg Loretsyan