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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Hindsight shows the mistakes made by Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane

Allowing too many experienced players such as Alvaro Morata, Pepe and James Rodriguez to leave and be replaced with inexperienced youngsters as highlighted lack of strength of depth in the champions.

It has been a frustrating time for Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane of late. Juan Medina / Reuters
It has been a frustrating time for Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane of late. Juan Medina / Reuters

Had you predicted at the start of this season that Valencia would be above Real Madrid at the halfway stage of the Primera Liga campaign, there would have been much shaking of heads.

Valencia finished 12th in each of the last two seasons, while peerless Madrid were the planet’s finest side. The Spanish, European and world champions started the season by outclassing Manchester United in the European Super Cup and Barcelona over both legs of the Spanish Super Cup.

Andreas Pereira, one of the United players in the dressing room after the Madrid defeat, recalled how the United players tried to take a position from the defeat and aim from the standard that Madrid had set.

Pereira went on loan to Valencia soon after and has enjoyed a good season in a young side which is enjoying a very good season under new boss Marcelino.

Valencia entertain Real Madrid on Saturday and while the cheapest of the few remaining tickets costs €71 (Dh323), if the game is half as good as August’s 2-2 draw then it will be hugely entertaining.

Madrid have problems. Barca are running away with the league, but Madrid still had cup interest in the Copa del Rey and the Uefa Champions League. A shock defeat at home to neighbours Leganes – and two wonder goals - on Wednesday ended domestic cup interest and led to gloating ‘No League, No Cup’ headlines in Catalonia.

No one was more surprised than the Leganes’ players, who filmed themselves on the pitch after the game, while Marca gave five Madrid players a mark of zero. The Copa del Rey is a serious competition, so why did Madrid, given their poor league form, not start Cristano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale?

Zinedine Zidane, who took responsibility for the failure which was greeted by boos from fans, finds his position is under scrutiny, but while his side are still in the Champions League, Madrid’s season will remain alive.

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Zinedine Zidane takes blame as Real Madrid suffer humiliating Copa del Rey defeat

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They play Paris Saint-Germain in the stand out tie of the last 16, with the first leg in February. Madrid have been written off before, but they still have an incredible level of talent. They also have Bale back, fit and scoring – at least for now.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been struggling to score in the league - his two goals in last Sunday’s 7-1 win against Deportivo La Coruna were half his league total so far. Ronaldo tweeted a positive message this week stating that “there are many battles still to win” and given how well he performed in the biggest Champions League games last season, you wouldn't put a repeat past him.

Yet Zidane’s solution to Madrid’s problems has been to change nothing. He has no plans to sign anyone in this January transfer window and thinks the current players who’ve won so much can get them out of the hole. Maybe he will be proved right.

Madrid’s problems are best viewed with hindsight, for few foresaw them in August. They had let talents including Alvaro Morata, Pepe and James Rodriguez leave and boldly replaced them with youngsters who need time. Those young talents have seldom featured.

Dani Ceballos has played only 186 league minutes and would have been better off staying at Real Betis, Theo Hernandez has been given only 540 minutes while Marco Asensio has started one of the last eight league games.

But first, Valencia against Madrid. Los Che were unbeaten in their first 14 games, but their form has dipped since December, when they’ve lost four and won three of their seven league games since that first defeat against Getafe.

Valencia are also in the Copa del Rey and will play Barcelona over two legs in the semi final. Madrid, as the stunned headlines this week told us, are not.

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