Consistency the key for Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid stagger close to Champions League abyss
Spanish side, currently bottom of Group A after two games, face Galatasaray on Tuesday in crunch clash in Istanbul
Istanbul has been spoilt for finals this season. It hosted the Uefa Super Cup in August. It will stage the Champions League final in May. And, tonight, its bonus: A fixture dubbed as the city’s extra ‘final’, where the club who have won more European Cups than anybody confront an all-or-nothing scenario at the animated home of Galatasaray.
Defeat would put Real Madrid on the brink of toppling out of the Champions League at the first hurdle. They have one point from two games so far and sit at the bottom of Group A.
They have conceded 13 goals in their last five matches in the competition whose title they held uninterrupted between May 2016 and March 2019.
They touched down in Turkey wounded by a 1-0 weekend defeat to newly promoted Real Mallorca. They are missing two of their most seasoned European campaigners, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, with injury.
Worried? “I don’t like the word ‘worried’,” said Zinedine Zidane, the Madrid manager, when it was put to him that he probably ought to be after an insipid performance in Mallorca, a result that removed Madrid from the top of the Spanish table. But he is clear about the requirement against Galatasary: “We have to be more consistent. We have to go out and win, because there is no fallback position.”
In fact, there is. It goes by the name of the Europa League, which in most circumstances, a club with a single point from their first three group games in the Champions League would be reconciled to aiming at. But consolation prizes have never really been Madrid’s playground.
In the 28 years since the mini-league component was introduced to the European Cup, Real have not once failed to go beyond it.
The spectre of Zidane, the manager who oversaw three Champions League titles in succession, becoming the first Madrid boss in charge of a December relegation to the lower tier of Europe would very likely come with the spectre of the Frenchman being replaced.
“The problem,” said Zidane, “is that we have to show how good we are every three days and we are not doing that.” He is concerned with his squad’s depth.
The rotations the coach made at the weekend, some enforced by injury or absence – Eden Hazard was attending to the birth of his fourth child – but some mindful of keeping men fresh for the Galatasaray trip, acted as a reminder that cover is sparse and a convincing Plan B yet to form.
Luka Jovic, the centre-forward signed for over €60 million (Dh246m) from Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer, is yet to register his first Madrid goal; his 66 minutes on the pitch at Mallorca never hinted at one.
Alvaro Odriozola, the right back, was sent off. Vinicius Junior, the teenaged winger, was imprecise in his finishing and Isco, in midfield, largely incognito. “We need put more life into our play,” said Zidane, a remark Vinicius, and Isco could regard as pointed in their directions.
Entrusted with the life-jackets in Istanbul will be the returning Hazard and Toni Kroos, charged with injecting creativity and cool-under-pressure in the heat of the Turk Telecom Arena, where the drumbeats will be amplified but the opposition also on edge.
Galatasaray have yet to score a goal in this season’s Champions League, and are above Madrid in the table only because they conceded one goal rather than Madrid’s three in defeat to group leaders Paris Saint-Germain.
Their manager, Fatih Terim, has been preoccupied by the fitness of Radamel Falcao, Gala’s star summer signing, but in recuperation from an Achilles problem for most of October.
In his absence, Florin Andone, recruited on loan from Brighton at the end of the transfer, spearheads the forward line. He scored his first two goals in Turkey on Friday, Galatasaray’s 3-2 win over Sivasspor, hauling the Turkish champions up to fifth place in their domestic table.
That was a relief for Terim, who will have plenty to compare notes with Zidane about immediately after what the media in both Spain and Turkey are labelling tonight’s ‘final’.
Terim, 66 and the most successful head coach in Galatasaray’s history, is in his fourth different stint in charge.
His first spell yielded the club’s sole European trophy, the Uefa Cup of 2000 and, though there have been four league titles since, it is a peak that, with every return, seems more and more distant.
Zidane, the manager with the Midas touch in Europe during his first spell with Madrid and precariously placed in his second, would sympathise.
Updated: October 22, 2019 08:47 AM