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Ronaldo rested, Zidane gets it right anyway

Aren’t the media making a huge fuss over the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo was rested for the first leg of Madrid’s Copa del Rey match?

Real Madrid v Kashima Antlers- FIFA Club World Cup Final Photo by Hiroki Watanabe/Getty Images

Online daily queried - tongue in cheek I hope – that “Cristiano is being rested for the Granada game??!” while Marca reported that the actual decision to give CR7 a break had already been taken some time ago; thus giving him a well-deserved rest.

Having fought his way back to fitness following the knee injury sustained in Euro 16, Cristiano has turned out regularly for Real Madrid, sometimes looking as though he’s been playing through the pain. There were games where he just seemed to take one heavy challenge after another. To make matters worse, he also took a lot of criticism for not performing at his best in those early days after returning to the team.

Zinedine Zidane stuck with him throughout; despite several calls to bring in fresh blood. An underperforming Ronaldo should make way for someone else; they said. At least put him on the bench.

Zidane persisted and Ronaldo returned to form; but it wasn’t all a happy and jovial relationship. Remember the reaction when CR7 was subbed? That didn’t go down well.

The Club World Cup came and went; and it wasn’t only Cristiano who felt the pace of a trip to Japan so soon after a series of tough games in the Champions league coupled with the regular La Liga campaign. Real picked up several injuries in Japan; and when added to the absence of Gareth Bale following ankle surgery in late November, Zidane’s tactical options for 2017 were quickly becoming limited.

So Cristiano was rested; and it’s been blown up a little out of proportion. It’s likely that both player and coach felt that this was a decision that needed to be made in Cristiano’s best interests and also for those of the team. Whether Zidane feels that Granada pose more of a threat to Real Madrid this coming weekend than Sevilla did in midweek is a question that only he can answer; but it’s more than likely the coach is thinking ahead to the second or third of the meetings with Sevilla together with the visit of Málaga shortly afterwards.

For months the media were highly critical of Carlo Ancelotti’s policy of playing Cristiano week-in week-out. Zidane’s rotational policy has come in for a fair bit of criticism during the past few months and at times you could argue that we’ve gone from one end of the scale to the other. Eyebrows were once again raised over the starting eleven against Sevilla. With Gareth Bale already missing through injury and Karim Benzema on the bench, Ronaldo’s absence meant that this was another Real Madrid side without the ‘BBC’. This time, however, it was through choice.

Since the squad returned to training last week after the Club World Cup we’ve known that there would be changes for the opening games of 2017. We were all aware that Pepe, Lucas Vázquez and Mateo Kovačić had been injured in Japan although we maybe didn’t expect Sergio Ramos to add to the list, but there we are. That’s football. Injuries often come when you least expect them and at the moment Zidane has very little choice other than to rotate.

What we didn’t expect was for Real to start against Sevilla without Karim Benzema as well as Cristiano; but as the head coach, Zinedine Zidane is certainly showing who’s in charge and it’s raising a few eyebrows. He’s his own man when it comes to making the decisions and clearly he isn’t afraid to leave people out if he thinks it’s the right thing to do. In Zidane’s position, seeing the bigger picture is often what it’s all about.

The demanding fixture list for January with five games in eighteen days has already started and although on paper Granada shouldn’t prove too difficult to beat on Saturday, three points are never guaranteed at any time.

We probably didn’t expect that the result against Sevilla would have been so comprehensive; but that might not be the case next time. Madrid may need a fully rested and recovered Ronaldo for the second leg.

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