Having successfully negotiated the potential for dropping any unexpected points in Granada, Zinedine Zidane’s thoughts will be well and truly focussed on the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against city rivals Atlético Madrid.
Wednesday’s return leg at the Vicente Calderón will be the last time that Real Madrid make the trip to the stadium before Atleti move to their new home next season, and the pressure is on Zidane to make sure the team don’t get swept away by the emotion on the night.
Under Diego Simeone, Atlético’s players will be in no mood to leave the old stadium and the big European nights at the Calderón with a defeat.
The fact that Real have a three-goal lead will count for nothing in the eyes of a team who couldn’t wish for anything better than to overcome that deficit and dump them out of the Champions League.
The tension has been evident for days; briefly interrupted only by Real’s victory in Andalucía and Atlético’s single-goal win against Eibar at the weekend.
No matter how much their thoughts about the forthcoming clash this Wednesday will have been played down by both managers, each will have his own opinion in answer to the question of when a three-goal advantage turns into an unassailable lead.
Maintaining the advantage gained in the first-leg thanks to the goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and a team performance that swept away any doubts Real fans may have had before the kick-off won’t be easy.
A three-goal lead might sound like a lot but it only takes a momentary lapse in concentration, an unexpected shot out of the blue, or a questionable penalty award and that lead is suddenly reduced to two.
With the home crowd behind them, Atletico will then be looking to close the gap even further. If they do, then it could potentially be anyone’s game.
Egged on by Simeone on the touchline, Atlético are used to playing the pressure game and that’s when they’re at their strongest.
Zidane’s primary task is to make sure that it never gets to that stage. The message will be hammered home at every available opportunity between now and kick-off time on Wednesday that complacency will be Real’s worst enemy on the night.
If anything, all the rotations, all the changes, all the unexpected line-ups this year that we didn’t expect will be justified provided that Real Madrid approach the second leg in the correct frame of mind.
Sometimes having a settled team can work in a negative fashion if players become tired, jaded or succumb to the subconscious mind telling them that there’s no need to go that extra yard because their positions aren’t under threat.
While not openly ‘dropping’ any of the players, Zidane hasn’t shied away from making changes if he’s thought that anyone might just have been thinking along those lines…
Zidane’s method of not allowing anyone to become complacent, subconsciously or otherwise, through a constant policy of interchanging players and keeping them mentally (and physically) fresh as a result is paying off.
One of Zidane’s strengths in this current campaign has been his efficiency; the quiet ruthlessness with which he makes his team selections and in quashing any dissenting voices in the dressing room.
That, together with the respect he undoubtedly commands not only because of his stature in the game but because of the manner in which he has managed this Real Madrid side only serve to emphasise his position as the man in charge.
He’s handled the dissenting voices, and addressed the substitutions that didn’t prove popular with the players involved at the time. His matter-of-fact decision-making in leaving people out or bringing them in as he sees fit looks to be paying off just at the time of year when many coaches are looking over their shoulders.
On that score, Zidane has already referred to the fact that as a coach if you don’t win at Real Madrid then you won’t be there for long. As a winner by nature, he’s certainly not going to allow any form of complacency to threaten his current tenure.
Of course Atlético are going to have a go on Wednesday night, nobody expects otherwise; but the key lies in making sure that as individuals Real’s players maintain the correct frame of mind throughout the ninety minutes.
That’s likely to be Zidane’s message to the players over the next 48 hours. Keep a positive approach on Wednesday and never, ever assume that the tie is over.
Winning the psychological battle means everything in games like this. As individuals, the players need to ensure that they are all on top of their own games and that their performances aren’t affected – however indirectly – by the thought of that three-goal lead being unassailable.