Tag Archives: Zinedine Zidane

Who should replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United manager?

It’s been a long time coming, but the Premier League is another manager down following this weekend of fixtures.

Manchester United sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following a 4-1 defeat to Watford on Saturday afternoon, meaning they are now on the hunt for their fifth permanent manager since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.

There are several names being touted for the role currently, although it seems as though United will wait until the summer to make a permanent appointment. But which of the names being touted most are the best fit? These are my thoughts on the top five names linked with the role.

Zinedine Zidane – Unattached

A three time Champions League winner and two time La Liga champion, Zidane seemingly completed the football management game during his time at Real Madrid across two stints in charge.

The Frenchman left on his own accord on both occasions after successful spells, where his side were quite rigid with their style of play but always very tough to beat. His record in big games spoke for itself, with his willingness to rotate his team and trust young players also very impressive.

Zinedine Zidane Head coach in action during La Liga match round 38 between Real Madrid and Villarreal CF at Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium. .

A superstar in his own right, Zidane was able to keep big egos in check at Madrid and would be able to do the same at Old Trafford too. However with a lack of interest in the Premier League and no real interest in the job itself, if he did arrive you can only assume it’s for the wrong reasons and that never bodes well.

Tactically he is adaptable, willing to play different ways and systems depending on his team and the opposition and he would suit the superstar reputation that fans like too.

Head Coach Mauricio Pochettino during the Ligue 1 Uber Eats match between Paris Saint Germain and FC Nantes at Parc des Princes on November 20, 2021...

Mauricio Pochettino – PSG

A manager who has forever been linked with the manager’s position at Old Trafford, Pochettino currently sits in the hot seat at Paris Saint-Germain.

Managing the likes of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Marco Verratti and Marquinhos, it’s hard to see why Pochettino would be interested in potentially moving to United at the current time but reports suggest that he is.

Attacking football with high intensity and rigid defensive structure, based around possession Pochettino is an excellent fit to the traditions of Manchester United, and now is as good a time as ever to finally get him in the job.

Leicester City Manager Brendan Rodgers during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Chelsea at King Power Stadium on November 20, 2021...

Brendan Rodgers – Leicester City

I’m probably a bigger Brendan Rodgers fan than most, and this appointment doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world to me.

A big advocate of possession football, Rodgers is happy to bring youth players through too while he has proven himself as one of the better managers in England since moving to Leicester. He surpassed expectations while with Celtic, and then came to Leicester and won the club’s first ever FA Cup while missing out on top four twice because of final day defeats.

A former Liverpool connection will put some fans off, but he would come in and add to the foundations that Solskjaer has left behind. Unfortunately though, we already know that he isn’t really one to be able to compete with Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel which is what United need so he probably shouldn’t be among the top candidates for the role.

Luis Enrique, coach of Spain celebrate winning during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification football match between Spain and Sweden at the...

Luis Enrique – Spain

Enrique’s reputation has only grown since he took over as Spain manager for a second time following the tragic passing of his daughter due to cancer, but it’s all to do with his team’s performances on the pitch.

After winning the treble at Barcelona with the legendary ‘MSN’ striker trio, he has taken over the role of national team manager and implemented a style that has caught the eye of many. They pushed a France side all the way to the limit during the Nations League and Italy were pushed all the way at Euro 2020 too, before they got a win back over them to end their unbeaten run.

High intensity, fast-paced possession football with the sole intent to score as many goals as possible, Enrique likes to work with young talent and with pace. While he’d be a brilliant fit for what United need, he is likely to have no interest and with the World Cup not far away now this is dead before it even takes off.

Head coach Erik Ten Hag of Ajax Amsterdam looks on during the Dutch Eredivisie match between Ajax and Go Ahead Eagles at Johan Cruijff Arena on...

Erik ten Hag – Ajax

The man at the top of a lot of fan’s wishlists, Ajax manager Erik ten Hag is one of the hottest prospects in European football for the work he has done with the Amsterdam giants.

His brilliant young team are constantly bringing through young players as is tradition with the club, while still performing to a high level both domestically and in Europe. A true coach, he is constantly tweaking the team to improve which shows just how adaptable he is.

Always looking to play attacking, front-foot football, ten Hag could potentially be the man to challenge the elite coaches already in the league. He is obviously untested in the Premier League, but if his Champions League record with a lesser side is anything to go by, then it could be a master-stroke by the board.

Fantasy Matches: Real Madrid 15-18 vs Barcelona 08-11

When you think about the best teams of the modern era, there are two that stick out like a sore thumb.

During a period where Spanish football was the home of the best players and managers in the world, it was obviously Barcelona and Real Madrid that had periods of dominance across Europe and domestically.

But what would have happened if you put those two teams, at their best, head-to-head with each other? We’re here to break it down and try and figure it out.

Barcelona between 2008 and 2011 were and are considered one of the greatest club sides in the history of football.

Under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, they revolutionised the way attacking football was played up until this day. They dominated possession, scored countless goals, passed opponents to death and were the home to arguably the greatest player of all-time in Lionel Messi.

Their 4-3-3 system with attacking full-backs and technically secure players all over the pitch set the benchmark as they won two Champions League trophies, three La Liga titles, three Spanish Super Cups, a Copa Del Rey, two UEFA Super Cups and two Club World Cups across three-and-a-half seasons.

Real Madrid couldn’t compete with them during that period, but they made their own mark half a decade later when they not only became the first team to retain their Champions League trophy but they also made it three-in-a-row.

Add to that a La Liga title, a Spanish Super Cup, two UEFA Super Cups and two World Club Cups under Zinedine Zidane (plus an extra World Club Cup under Santi Solari after Zidane’s resignation), this is a team synonymous with success and winning.

The brilliant goalscoring of Cristiano Ronaldo, the majestic midfield play of Luka Modric and Tony Kroos, the playmaking from full-back by Marcelo and the leadership of Sergio Ramos at the back, this was a complete squad.

The difference between these two powerhouse teams is that Real Madrid were able to adapt their style of play depending on the opponent.

Against weaker opposition they had the ability to dominate the ball and carve open defences to score goals, while pushing high up the pitch to sustain pressure.

When they came up against quality outfits though, Zidane would ensure they sat a bit deeper defensively, were compact in midfield and explosive on the counter attack with the pace of Ronaldo, Benzema and even Gareth Bale leading the way.

Barcelona on the other hand were the same no matter what. Much like today’s Guardiola, it was all about controlling the ball and dominating possession. Short passes, lots of sharp movements and rotation across positions and technical security meant they were unshakeable on the ball.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane pose for a photo accepts The Best FIFA Men's Player award during The Best FIFA Football Awards at The London...

But the Catalan legend also instilled a hunger in the team to win the ball back as soon as possible when they did lose it, famously starting a seven-second press that if the opponent was able to surpass would usually result on them being in on goal.

It’s fair to say that Zidane’s Madrid side would ultimately allow Barcelona to have the ball in midfield and be compact, while using their own technical abilities and brilliant quality to try and pick them off on the counter as they did to so many top sides during their Champions League wins during that period.

The difference however, is that this Madrid side never came up against this Lionel Messi.

The little Argentine was a totally different animal under Guardiola, which is terrifying considering all he has achieved since they parted ways in 2012.

Lionel Messi of Argentina and Barcelona FC receives the FIFA player of the year award during the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2010 t the congress hall on...

I have no doubts that Ronaldo would likely have a say on the game himself, because during this period of time he was at his goalscoring best and most clutch. But Messi could effect the game without just putting the ball into the net.

David Villa and Pedro were also huge goalscoring threats from the wing, while Dani Alves in his peak was arguably the best right-back of all-time. It’s hard to imagine this Real Madrid side keeping this peak Barcelona side goalless for 90 minutes and while I wouldn’t bet against them scoring themselves, ultimately the greatest player of all-time would separate the two best club sides we’ve seen in this era of football.

Prediction: Real Madrid (15-18) 1-2 Barcelona (08-11) / Messi masterclass.

Zinedine Zidane has ‘no interest’ in Premier League

Manchester United fans have been dealt a blow in their wish to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after it emerged Zinedine Zidane has no interest in a Premier League job.

The Norwegian boss has come under intense pressure in recent weeks at Old Trafford after just two wins in seven games ahead of a run of fixtures that includes Liverpool, Man City, Tottenham, Chelsea and Atalanta twice in the Champions League.

Fans of the club have been vocal about their wish for him to be sacked to give United a chance to challenge for major trophies, with Frenchman Zidane one of the names at the top of their wishlist to replace him.

However it is now being reported that ‘Zizou’ has never been interested in taking a job in the Premier League and never will be.

That is according to French journalist Frederic Hermel, who is incredibly close to the legendary midfielder and works for French outlet RMC Sport.

Hermel has followed Zidane throughout his career and interviewed him on several occasions and is regarded as one of the only journalists that the former Real Madrid man really trusts.

He tweeted out that Zidane has never been interested in a Premier League move and never will be following rumours of an approach from Newcastle United, while Spanish outlet El Chringuito claimed that Manchester United had held informal conversations with him about taking over from Solskjaer.

But with Hermel now claiming that there is no interest, that should be the end of that such is his reliability in all things Zidane.

The news comes as a blow to United fans who were hopeful that he could take over from Solskjaer, with the 49-year-old by far the highest profile free agent available currently.

Other names to have been linked to the position are former Chelsea and Inter Milan boss Antonio Conte, Erik Ten Haag of Ajax, Mauricio Pochettino of Paris Saint-Germain and England boss Gareth Southgate.

Solskjaer has been given full confidence by the board so far despite the poor run of results and there is no suggestion from within the club that they are looking to replace him any time soon.

Real Madrid bringing back Carlo Ancelotti is bizarre

Real Madrid have made yet another shocking move in the managerial world after they made Carlo Ancelotti their new manager once again.

Ancelotti was the manager of Los Blancos between 2013 and 2015 winning a Copa Del Rey, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup during his time at the club.

He left after finishing as runner up to an MSN-led Barcelona in La Liga, with president Florentino Perez claiming the decision was made “with a heavy heart”.

But after a spell with Bayern Munich and then 18 months with Everton, Ancelotti has seemingly shown the Madrid board enough that they’re willing to bring him back to replace recently departed boss Zinedine Zidane.

Zizou served as Ancelotti’s assistant as Madrid lifted ‘La Decima’ and the Frenchman credited the former Milan and Juventus boss for teaching him a lot. But considering recent campaigns, the decision to bring Ancelotti back seems very rushed and bizarre.

He’s hardly lit the Premier League up since joining the Toffees, leading them to a 12th and 10th placed finish in his one-and-a-half seasons with the club. He’s developed some good talent while there, with the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin shining since his arrival while others like defender Ben Godfrey has really improved his all-round game.

But other than a few stand-out performers and some big spending, Ancelotti has barely improved the side.

They didn’t play particularly attractive football, didn’t earn European football during his time at the club and hardly stood out in a league full of top coaches. His in-game management has always left plenty to be desired and now it seems as though it’s his cup competition pedigree that has attracted Perez back to him.

Real Madrid Celebration After UEFA Champions League Final : News Photo

He’s one of only two managers, along with Zidane, to win the Champions League three times and with Madrid so hell-bent on bringing the trophy back to the club it seems like he’s just decided to go with what he knows already.

But with Madrid struggling so much financially, it’s unlikely there will be any sort of rebuild this summer or in the near future. That means Ancelotti will be forced to just deal with the squad he has currently, which is not the best.

Several key players will be 30 or over this summer while the futures of Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are still up in the air.

Without investment it’s really tough to see how the squad can improve on last season’s performances, despite ending the year trophyless.

With Ancelotti going to sign a three-year contract, it seems as though Real Madrid are putting their eggs into his basket in the hope of one last big push to end his career and get them back to the top of the game while the rest of Europe undergo a big transition period.

Risky, bizarre and just weird. But it’s happening. Carlo Ancelotti is the new Real Madrid manager, again.

Zinedine Zidane resigns as Real Madrid boss as Max Allegri returns to Juventus

The European managerial merry-go-round has begun.

As the season comes to an end, the biggest clubs in Europe are making the tough decisions that can break or break the new season and it turns out that the heavyweights want change this summer.

After Antonio Conte resigned as manager of Inter Milan, he has been followed by Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid who officially resigned for the second time with a year left on his contract.

It had been widely expected that Zidane was going to walk away from Madrid again, as he oversaw a trophyless season with the club. He took the La Liga title race all the way to the final day, where Atletico Madrid’s victory meant they claimed the title.

He also took them to the Champions League semi-finals, where they couldn’t overcome a solid Chelsea side and were dumped out following defeat at Stamford Bridge in the second leg. But with so many injuries throughout the season and the club struggling financially, he wasn’t able to get the squad he was promised and has decided to call it a day with no sign of change this summer.

It was believed he was going to be replaced by Max Allegri, who had been without a job for two seasons after leaving Juventus following five consecutive Serie A titles. However, it was revealed on Thursday that Allegri is in fact set to return to Juventus, with the Turin side deciding to sack Andrea Pirlo.

Former midfielder Pirlo was originally hired as the youth team coach, but was promptly promoted once Maurizio Sarri was sacked last summer after winning the league. Despite his legendary status and strong squad, Juventus only finished fourth on the final day when Napoli failed to win allowing the Bianconeri to leapfrog them in the table.

While Pirlo was hopeful of staying, the decision was taken away from him and it seems now that Allegri will return and be given the keys to the rebuild that the club will undertake.

It means that Real Madrid will likely turn their attention to Conte now that he is a free agent. Conte previously almost joined Madrid back in 2018 when Zidane left the first time, but the club in the end went for Julen Lopetegui and we all know how that went.

There is also the chance that the club could go for Mauricio Pochettino, the current PSG manager. After failing to win Ligue 1, it’s believed that he is considering his future at the club after signing an 18-month contract in January of this year.

It was believed that his position could be under threat, but reports in France suggest they are keen to keep him for the upcoming season but he could be tempted to leave with his former club Tottenham Hotspur also back in the race for him.

It’s said that Spurs are confident they could strike a deal with PSG and Pochettino to bring him back to north London less than two years after sacking him. It seems as though both parties are open to making it happen, but PSG aren’t the most keen.

If Spurs and Pochettino were to push for it though, they could look to try and bring Zidane as a replacement. A French legend with plenty of success in Europe as a player and a coach, Zizou could be the perfect answer to the managerial position should it become available.

It’s a managerial merry-go-round in Europe, with the top clubs making big changes at the top. There’s a big summer incoming and there are plenty of twists and turns coming.

Max Allegri the perfect choice to replace Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid

It seems as though the reign of Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid will come to an end this season, whether he wins La Liga for a second consecutive season or not.

Despite taking the title race to the final day with Madrid rivals Atletico, rumours are rife that Zidane has told the players that he will be leaving the club after the game despite having a year left on his contract.

While Zidane has denied it publicly, it seems as though the club have already made moves to begin their search for a replacement with club legend Raul and former Juventus boss Max Allegri linked to the role.

While Raul would be a highly popular choice, there’s no doubt that the best choice for the job is the five-time Serie A winner and two-time Champions League runner-up.

Allegri has been out of a job for the last two years, after resigning from his role at Juventus following a need for a break. Now fully recharged and raring to go again, the Bernabeu job seems perfect for him.

Los Blancos are in desperate need of a rebuild, with so many of their key players into their mid-thirties already.

Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Eden Hazard and Marcelo will all be over 30 next season, while Ramos and Raphael Varane both look like they could leave this summer as the club looks to cut back on their wage bill due to financial cuts.

Zinedine Zidane head Coach of Real Madrid reacts during the La Liga Santander match between Athletic Club and Real Madrid at Estadio de San Mames on...

Allegri has overseen squad overhauls in the past at Juventus and Milan, but maintained an ability to challenge domestically while also staying a threat in Europe too. He has plenty of experience with working with older players, while also being able to adapt tactically depending on his squad to different styles of players.

In a way, he’s quite similar to Zidane tactically. He prefers to keep control in midfield and play a slow-tempo game, while using experienced defenders and technically skilled attacking players to break down defences.

He’s got a good record in the transfer market too, but with the way Madrid work he will likely be given players to work with rather than really get to select his own. But he is the perfect man for the job because of his experience at the top level.

He’s won titles, he’s coached top players and he’s a big name. Bringing in Raul would be a huge gamble that a team with the reputation of Real Madrid at their current point in time can’t afford. We saw at Juventus this season how much Andrea Pirlo has struggled and how Frank Lampard struggled at Chelsea, so Madrid would be wary of bringing a manager in just because of their affiliation with the club.

Zidane is ready to move on, Real Madrid are preparing to move on and Allegri is ready to move in. It’s the start of a new era at the Bernabeu.

Chelsea vs Real Madrid – UEFA Champions League semi-final prediction

The business end of the season is upon us as the final four of the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League is upon us.

Two mouth-watering clashes make up the semi-finals, as Chelsea take on Real Madrid for the first time ever while Paris Saint-Germain will take on Manchester City in the other game.

We’ve done predictions for every knockout tie in the competition so far, so we continue here with the Blues’ fixtures against the Spanish giants.

Chelsea come into this game off the back of a big win over West Ham at the weekend to move them ahead of their rivals in the race for the top four in the Premier League. Timo Werner got his first goal since February and the Blues kept yet another clean sheet under manager Thomas Tuchel.

Real Madrid on the other hand made it consecutive 0-0 draws in La Liga as their injury hit squad has fallen behind Atletico Madrid and Barcelona once again after closing the gap at the top of the table.

Tuchel’s side overcame Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League, winning both home and away without conceding a goal, before beating Porto 2-0 in the away leg before losing the home leg 1-0 to progress 2-1 on aggregate.

Zizou’s Los Blancos have shown their brilliance in Europe as the season has progressed. They struggled in the group stages before winning the group on the final day, before easing past Atalanta in the last 16. They then defeated Liverpool in Madrid in the first leg of their quarter-final clash despite a host of defensive injury problems, before a 0-0 draw at Anfield to confirm their progression.

Chelsea will have a full strength team to choose from for the first leg minus former Madrid midfielder Mateo Kovacic, who will miss out with a knee injury. Tuchel will almost certainly continue with this three-at-the-back system, but he will need to find his team’s creative juices.

They have only scored three or more goals once since the German took over, in a 4-1 win over Crystal Palace earlier this month. There has been one goal or less in each of the last four, including a 0-0 draw with Brighton and their wins over Manchester City in the FA Cup and then West Ham this weekend.

The manager seems to have a first choice defence decided upon, while his midfield selects itself when everyone is fit too but his attack seems to constantly be chopped and changed. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner have shown glimpses of their ability since Tuchel arrived but they’re still struggling more than anything else, while Mason Mount’s influence continues to grow.

Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud are the other candidates for the two attacking spots but Tuchel’s attacking style hasn’t really got any of them to gel just yet so his selection against Madrid will be interesting.

Madrid on the other hand have got their strongest XI, but will be without several key players heading into the game. Sergio Ramos is still missing with the calf problem that saw him miss the Liverpool tie, while Ferland Mendy is also out with injury.

They can however welcome back Dani Carvajal and Eden Hazard to the team and a strengthened starting lineup is exactly what they need. The return of Hazard in particular will be of interest as the Chelsea legend has struggled to build any sort of momentum since his £100m move two years ago because of injuries.

It’s due to be a very tight affair between both sides and with the clubs never having met before, there’s no psychological battle to win in that sense.

Zidane’s side is full of players who have won this competition several times and the team seem to be peaking at the perfect time. They’ve not lost a game since the end of January and are finally getting over their injury problems.

When a team is full of quality in all areas, knows how to play to the occasion and have a manager who is tactically flexible depending on the scenario, it’s hard to look past them. Real Madrid in the Champions League are a different animal and while Chelsea are a very good team under Tuchel, they’re still learning about themselves and I can’t see them getting past this Zidane side over two legs.

Karim Benzema’s ability to influence games even without getting on the scoresheet is something Tuchel wishes he had in his striker role and with the return of Hazard plus the midfield three performing brilliantly as usual, I have to back the Spaniards to make another final.


Real Madrid 1-0 Chelsea
Chelsea 1-1 Real Madrid
(Real Madrid to progress 2-1 on aggregate)

Real Madrid vs Liverpool – Champions League quarter-final predictions

The UEFA Champions League is back with some absolutely mouth watering ties as we enter the quarter-final stage of the competition.

Two of the most successful sides in European history will collide as Real Madrid take on Liverpool in the last eight, with both sides thankfully able to play their home leg in their respective home cities after COVID-19 restrictions had threatened that neutral venues could be needed.

Zinedine Zidane’s side got through to this stage with a convincing win over Atalanta in the last round, winning both home and away despite injury problems for a 4-1 aggregate win. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds on the other hand were able to stifle an exciting RB Leipzig team in the last 16 to earn 2-0 wins both home and away for comfortable progression.

This game is a very interesting tie on paper and one that neutrals will be very keen to watch.

Both teams have got exceptionally strong squads but have had incredibly inconsistent seasons and have been riddled by injuries throughout the campaign. Liverpool currently sit in sixth place in the Premier League table and this past weekend officially saw their title defence come to an end, despite a convincing 3-0 win over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.

Real Madrid are still very much in their title race, with a 2-0 win at the weekend over Eibar sitting them just three points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid with nine games remaining.

Zidane’s side have shown a capability of being tactically flexible throughout the season, playing several formations, but their starting lineup tends to pick itself when players are available. They will however be without captain and talisman Sergio Ramos who picked up a knee injury while on international duty and has been ruled out for a month.

Eden Hazard is back in training but will miss the first leg, although Federico Valverde is back in the squad for the first game after missing a period of time through injury. The burden will once more fall upon French striker Karim Benzema, who leads the way for goals under Zidane since the boss returned for a second spell in charge of the club.

Liverpool on the other hand have seen their injury problems ease in recent weeks with Diogo Jota, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino all fit again, while Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane have found form once again.

Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are all still out injured at centre-back while captain Jordan Henderson is still missing with fitness problems that could see him miss the rest of the season too, but Fabinho’s return to defensive midfield has been an excellent boost to the team.

Casemiro has been able to keep Fabinho out of the Brazilian national team but they are both quite comfortably the best in the world in their position, while Thiago is able to compete on a technical level with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric from deep positions.

Liverpool have previously used their full-backs with great effect to overload teams in the middle, but this season their approach has had to be altered which was resulted in less assists. Diogo Jota’s form on either side of his injury will be seen as a huge boost and could force Madrid to adapt their way of defending, especially without Ramos in the side.

With that said though, the inexperience in defence with a likely pairing of Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak against Benzema is something they will surely look to expose. Vinicius Jr is always capable of causing problems although inconsistency is a huge issue, while Marco Asensio has begun looking like the player he was prior to his knee injury.

It will be a tightly contested game without doubt, with both teams fancying their chances against the inconsistent form of their opposition.

Overall, the pace of the current Premier League champions should prove too much to handle for a Ramos-less Real Madrid defence.

We’ve seen in the past how much they struggle without their leader at the back and Liverpool’s attack is still one of the best around, even with recent form causing them to struggle in front of goal. The move back to midfield for Fabinho has boosted them tremendously and while I think it’s unlikely that either team keeps a clean sheet, Liverpool are less reliant on a single goalscoring threat and should therefore be able to progress in an entertaining tie.


Real Madrid 1-1 Liverpool
Liverpool 2-1 Real Madrid
(Liverpool to progress 3-2 on aggregate)

Real Madrid show the old guard still has it as they progress past Atalanta

Real Madrid secured their passage to the Champions League quarter-finals with a routine win over Serie A side Atalanta, as Zinedine Zidane showed why he still relies on his old guard to lead this team.

The French manager has been under pressure at several different points of the season so far for under performing domestically in La Liga and also in Europe, but has stuck with his relatively older squad and it is now beginning to come good for him towards the business end of the season.

Goals from Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and substitute Marcos Asensio were enough on the night for a 3-1 win, with Luis Muriel scoring a screamer of a free-kick as a consolation for Atalanta.

With Benzema 33 now, Ramos 34, Luka Modric 35 and Toni Kroos 31, the Madrid core is entering it’s twilight. Despite tha though, they are still oozing quality and are justifying Zidane’s decision to stick with them even through the tough times.

The manager has had to contend with a host of injury problems, including £100m Eden Hazard who has made only 14 appearances in all competitions so far this campaign. The Belgian was missing once again for this tie after picking up another injury, with Spanish media now speculating he could miss the Euros this summer.

Despite that, Zizou has largely stuck with older core where he can and Los Blancos are now reaping the rewards at the business end of the season.

Real Madrid have now won eight of their last 11 games in all competitions and are unbeaten in their last nine. That has seen them close the gap on local rivals Atletico Madrid to just six points with all three contenders having played the same amount of games and still needing to face each other.

While they’re not the favourites in the title race or in the Champions League, their experience and quality when it comes to winning big games cannot go unnoticed. Much of this squad was part of the side that won three Champions League titles in a row and they all were part of the squad that went on a big run post-lockdown last season to win the title.

It’s fair to say that the better teams won’t fear drawing Real Madrid in Friday’s draw, nobody will be clamouring to face them either. Over two legs they’re still incredibly tough to beat and they have the attacking quality to break even the best teams down too.

With the know how of the squad, and the manager, they’re a side to keep an eye on – which is crazy to say about a team as hugely successful as Real Madrid have been in the past.

Nobody can or will take them lightly and they will have the self-confidence that they can beat anyone, so don’t rule them out of doing something crazy like winning a trophy or two come the end of the season.

Champions League last 16 predictions: Atalanta vs Real Madrid

It’s Champions League time once again as the last 16 is back and the second round of fixtures commences.

Last week we saw the first eight teams compete, with some thrilling fixtures to take us through to the second leg and this week we’ll be hoping for more of the same – starting with Europe’s great entertainers Atalanta as they take on record winners Real Madrid.

The Serie A side currently sit in fifth place in the table, just six points behind second placed AC Milan and come into the game in great form having won their last three games in a row. As for Real Madrid, they’ve managed to significantly close the gap at the top of La Liga but sit six points behind Atletico Madrid in second place as they look to defend their title.

It’s been a tough season for Zinedine Zidane’s side as they’ve been forced to compete with inconsistent form, constant injury problems and several COVID-19 breakouts throughout the campaign. Madrid’s group stages saw them on the verge of elimination at that stage for the first time ever, only for a final day win over Borussia Moenchengladbach to be enough to see both teams through after Inter Milan drew with Shakhtar Donetsk.

Real Madrid v Valencia - La Liga Santander : News Photo

Atalanta have been their usual entertaining selves throughout the campaign, scoring 72 goals so far this season including 53 in Serie A – topped only by league leaders Inter. In the group stages of this competition, they were able to navigate a group including Liverpool and Ajax – beating both teams away from home.

Coming into this tie, the Italians will never have a better chance of beating the Spanish giants. Madrid have just 11 senior first-team players available for the first leg – meaning they’re without all of Sergio Ramos, Eder Militao, Alvardo Odriozola, Dani Carvajal, Marcelo, Federico Valverde, Rodrygo, Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema.

With Atalanta only missing Hans Hateboer, they’d be crazy not to go for the kill in the first leg and try and put the tie to bed early. They have the goalscoring capabilities to do so, having score three goals in five of their last eight fixtures and beyond Madrid’s starting eleven they should be able to hold off any threat.

Atalanta BC  v SSC Napoli - Serie A : News Photo

Madrid’s lineup is essentially known prior to kick-off because of their injuries and they’ll have to play in a way that their team maintain discipline and ensure they’re careful about letting the game get away from them. They still have their best midfield out, so have the ability to control a game but the inconsistency of their attack means it’s going to be incredibly difficult to see them score a goal, never mind win the game.

With a three week break between the two legs, Madrid will be hopeful of having some of those players return from injury to bolster their squad. With that said Atalanta’s away record in the competition is exceptional having won every game and conceded no goals and their fast-paced, attacking style could be key to that.

It’s so hard to see Real Madrid keeping a clean sheet even if a few of those players do return to the team by the time the second leg comes round and I think this will be the big shock of the round.

Atalanta 2-0 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 1-3 Atalanta
(Atalanta to progress, 5-1 on aggregate)