Pepe, Fábio Coentrão, Gareth Bale and two others won’t be directly involved against Atlético once Zinedine Zidane whittles down his 21 named players to 18; but they’ll be there and cheering just as loudly as anyone else on the night.
Zinedine Zidane has named six defenders in his squad for the Champions League semi-final and will finalise his line-up shortly before the derby clash; having made sure there are no unexpected surprises after the Valencia game.
It’s unlikely that Danilo will start; but based on the recent run of injuries Zidane will feel that he needs that extra defensive cover just in case. It’s will be interesting to see who he fields in the centre of the defence; and in what formation.
Nacho has been steady since coming into the team as the defensive partner for Sergio Ramos; but now that Raphaël Varane appears to have made a successful return to the team the reshuffle might continue.
Marcelo and Dani Carvajal are the preferred flankers anyway; so the defence is likely to take a familiar look.
It’s a lot less straight-forward in midfield. Zidane’s selections are always a bit unpredictable with the exception of games like this; so perhaps he’ll throw Diego Simeone off the track by hinting at fielding one particular formation while having no intention whatsoever of following it through.
On so many occasions already this season, Real’s strength has been evident in dominating the middle of the park and in this respect, Zidane isn’t short of options.
James, Casemiro, Kroos; Modrić, Ascensio, Isco and Kovačić. Perm any three from seven; or will it be four from eight if Lucas Vázquez starts? We could go on and discuss even more permutations. Zidane’s teams this season have been full of surprises.
We know for sure Cristiano will start; but alongside who? Karim Benzema? Álvaro Morata? Or will Zidane play them both alongside CR7?
There are so many options and that’s what Cholo is likely to be trying to work out at the moment. Zidane’s train of thought is never easy to predict and this game will be no different.
The last few weeks have seen mixed fortunes for Real Madrid. More ups than downs it has to be said, but we’re now at the point where every game has a direct bearing on the domestic league.
The Champions League, though, is such a huge prize to be playing for and there’s certainly nothing truer at the moment than the old saying about taking one game at a time.
From the players’ point of view, all eyes are definitely on the next game. Zidane can do the looking ahead if he wants to but everybody in the dressing room will be focussed for now on Atlético and the first leg.
Zidane, of course, will be looking ahead. Barring injuries, he probably knows exactly what his team is going to be for Granada at the weekend and his side for the return at the Vicente Calderón in a week’s time.
He may spring a few more surprises yet; but after all that’s what we’ve come to expect. It’s a far cry from when you could virtually pick the starting eleven week-in week-out in the days when this rarely varied.
There’s no doubt that Zidane knows his ‘best’ eleven. He dismissed all talk this week about having two separate Real Madrid teams and instead continues to promote the squad approach. Although high in numbers when everybody is fit, this approach is paying off so far.
For the first leg at the Santiago Bernabéu, the injured lads will be part of that squad, cheering. As will whoever makes way in a week’s time. Although Zidane knows that he can’t please everyone, the squad approach is here to stay.
How to watch Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid
Kick-off time: 20:45 CET, 02:45pm EST.
Venue: Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain.
Available TV: FOX Sports (USA), Antena 3 (Spain).
Available streaming: FOX Sports 2GO (USA), Fubo.TV (EVERY Real Madrid game with a high-quality and legal stream, click here to sign up and benefit from a huge offer for new members and Managing Madrid readers).