Real Madrid are in Granada to face an all-but-mathematically relegated Granada side who have been woeful all season. Traces of Paco Jemez’s black-hole (and insultingly-open) defensive scheme still lingers within the team, and after 35 games played, they’ve conceded 74 goals — the second-worst mark in the entire league.
New manager Tony Adams is up against a tsunami on Saturday — against a carving offense that’s deeply rooted in multiple positions. Though Zidane will likely rotate in this game to avoid taking even the slightest risk at the Calderon on Wednesday, he has hungry gunslingers off the bench who would start for 90% of the remaining teams in La Liga. Adams, to be sure, actually has some promising blueprints lined up for Granada next season, but he may be helpless here, even if the infamous briefcase shows up via express courier from Barcelona.
Pre-game news & notes
- Look for Fabio Coentrao and Danilo to start as the wing-backs, with Marcelo (hopefully) not being needed nor risked in a game like this. Typically, when the front hexagon contains Isco / James / Asensio / Morata / Kovacic / Lucas; the need for Marcelo is greatly lessened (as we saw against Deportivo).
- Granada historically doesn’t match up well against Real Madrid, and have lost 13 of the last 14 matches in this tie. Somehow, they snuck a win in 2013, thanks to a Ronaldo own goal.
- To make up for it, Ronaldo has scored 12 goals in 11 games against Granada.
- Granada are technically the least-in-form team in Spain, losing nine of their last ten games.
Zinedine Zidane, on critics, and Real Madrid’s path to Cardiff
"I love this club, it is in my heart, but I know where I am," he told reporters ahead of Saturday's game at Granada.
"At Madrid, you need results and that is what you are dependent on. The club is like that. I want to be at this club, I came here nearly 17 years ago.
"But when you don't get good results, you go home, it is like this, and I have this in mind. I'm well aware of that, but it doesn't stop me from keeping on working, dreaming and trying to win.
"During my career, I have always tried to win everything. The truth is that I am trying to do the best possible, but I know the game well.
"The president has given me the honour of coaching this great club. Every day I am going to manage it with a lot of excitement and with a tremendous desire to keep learning and progressing.
"People are going to express their opinion - be it positive or negative - and I can't change that. What is said outside doesn't matter."
"Above all, being at this club - which is the best thing that's happened to me in my professional career - is what drives me.
"I'm not worried about anything but at the moment we haven't won anything. We will see at the end of the season.
"We could win two, one or end up winning nothing. The only thing I can say is we must keep going every day until the last minute of the last match."
Random tidbit (via FourFourTwo); Ruud’s reflection on ‘minuto magico’ during Real Madrid’s title run in 2017:
"This was an idiot game! It was the penultimate week of the season and we [Madrid] were level on points with Barcelona. With two minutes to play they were beating Espanyol and we were losing 2-1 at Zaragoza.
"Then I scored a goal and at the same time, Espanyol scored. We were level again. The Madrid fans exploded. It’s only during such moments of madness you realise how crazy and beautiful the game can be. To share that emotional moment with so many people was mad. We beat Mallorca in our last game to win the Primera Liga."
Luis Enrique, on the title race
"That's a statistic, it shows how strong Real Madrid are as a club," he said when asked about the prospect of Los Blancos progressing to yet another decider.
"It's a little biased to look just at what they've done in the Champions League. You can look at what Barca have done as well, we have reasons to feel positive.
"I focus on what I can control, our club, our team. Every club has different main rivals that you focus on more than any others and maybe that's what you're gauged against. Focusing on my own team works well for me.
"I'm really only focusing on what Barca do. I don't want to analyse what other teams are doing. I focus on my team. If we win a title, then great. Let's see what happens."
"We need to win every game to have any hope of winning the league," said Luis Enrique.
"Primarily it depends on ourselves and what we do.
"Our first year we won the league in the penultimate game, last year it was the last game. This year it looks like it will go down to the last game. If anybody knows what will happen, please tell me.
"It's the same story at the end of every season. They've been tight run-ins, one team edges ahead, one edges behind. You need to let these things effect the players as little as possible… [because they are] trying to cope with the pressure."
Zidane, on ‘the balance’ of the BBC
"We always go out to try and play the game - we can start one way and finish in another," Zidane said at his pre-match media conference.
"If you think we have got less balance with the BBC and it is a problem [when they play], then I don't think that is true.
"I think it is the opposite. They are three huge world-class players, they are very good.
"But what Toni says is perhaps true as well, we can have more balance when the game needs it, such as playing with players on the wing who can defend and attack.
"When I make a change it isn't always just to defend, sometimes it is the opposite. When Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez came on [against Atletico] it wasn't to defend.
"Everyone can have their opinion but I am very happy with the BBC and all the players.
"The games that we have played with the three up front can you tell me when we haven't played a good game? There have been very few that we haven't played well.
"To put together a side it is always complicated, all the other players are good, they all want to play and do very well. The BBC also do very well."
... And furthermore, some of his comments on the title race
"I'm not worried about anything but at the moment we haven't won anything," he said.
"We could win two, one or end up winning nothing. The only thing I can say is all we are doing is we must keep going every day until the last minute of the last match of the season.
"That is what we want to do. Real Madrid wants to do it that way, I can't tell you how things are going to end up, but I'm not worried. The only thing I can say is I like the way that we work."
... And his thoughts on the fans whistling Ronaldo
"With Cristiano you can either love him or you don't – there is nothing really in between,"
"He knows that as well. But Cristiano has a lot of respect, he has respect from everyone here and that is the most important thing. He has it from all his team-mates, all the club and the coach as well."
"I speak to Cristiano a lot," added Zidane. "He knows and he understands well that until now he has always played 50, 60, or 70 games a season. The accumulation of all the years, he knows as well, sometimes you have to stop and rest.
"I have said before that I don't want to be the coach that has made the decision to leave Cristiano out. I speak to him and all the players a lot and I know that at times players have to rest.
"With all the games that we have to play in, if we want to be in good form and be at a great physical level then we have to rest players - that's it. It is a dialogue that we have. We have conversations about it."
Updates on the backline
"Fabio is going to be with us on Saturday," said Zidane. "Pepe is in good form and next week he is going to be ready and completely with us – but Saturday he won't be with us.
"Raphael Varane has felt something, it is nothing big, but we don't want to risk anything with a player who has got a slight niggle."
James’ golazo during training
Gonzalo Higuain, on a potential Real Madrid - Juventus final
"It definitely would be a special situation because I played in Madrid for seven years," said Higuain.
"But first, I insist, the final must be reached."
"We realise how strong we are, we know we can fight against anyone," said Higuain.
"We are close to three important goals and we hope to reach them.
"It's time to give it [our] all. We hope it will become a dream season. However, in [the] Champions [League], the return [leg] hasn't happened yet. Monaco is strong and the tie isn't over yet. We have to be calm, we have not won anything yet.
Jordi Alba, on the never-ending Messi/Ronaldo discussion
"I don't know who decides the Ballon d'Or winner, or the best in the world," he said on Thursday.
"Everybody has their own opinion. At one point, Xavi or [Andres] Iniesta should have won it.
"You already know my opinion, because to me, Leo Messi is the best player in the world.
"Cristiano is a great player who scores many goals. He's a genius, if I said it any other way I'd be lying.
"To watch on the pitch... I think people prefer Leo, it doesn't matter which team you support."
Pre-game due diligence
- Renato from Barca Blaugranes joined me on the latest ‘Churros y Tácticas’ podcast and it was pretty good banter / fun. We discussed Pique, the all-time RM / Barca XI, the title race, and a bunch of other fun topics.
- Om was on Colchonero Chat to talk about the tie against Atletico.
- Om and I released this week’s Facebook video (Toni Kroos focused) here.
- Jack’s match preview here.
- ICYMI, the date for the Celta match has finally been set.