If ever an important match required a team effort then the chances are it’s going to be this one. Zinedine Zidane clearly thinks so; and to that end named every player in his first team squad for the crucial Champions League game against Paris Saint-Germain.
Zidane is huge on team spirit, unity and integration. The names of his squad for this match, released to the press yesterday, illustrates that perfectly.
He’s making it obvious that he sees those who cannot take the field tonight as being every bit a part of the side as the starting eleven or the substitutes who will be looking from the bench.
When the squad was initially announced, I immediately thought that Dani Ceballos and Jesús Vallejo had made such progress with their respective recoveries that the pair of them were actually in contention for a place on the actual team sheet.
But with Dani Carvajal also being included, and knowing Dani is suspended, it’s clear that Zidane is giving nothing away to Unai Emery in the 24 hours leading up to kick-off time at the Bernabéu.
The PSG coach wasn’t born yesterday though. He’s going to know full well that the two injured lads haven’t played for weeks and that even if they were fully fit for the first-leg of this tie then the odds of them returning to action in an intense Champions League match are slim to say the least.
Instead, the former Sevilla coach is likely to be preparing Neymar et al to face whatever combination Zidane comes up with on the night.
Whether Zidane decides to opt for the ‘BBC’ and throw Gareth Bale on at the start remains to be seen; as will his decision over whether to stick with Karim Benzema or not up front.
We were discussing only the other day how one thing that makes football so unique is the fact that’s it’s all about opinions; and although everybody is entitled to have one it was still very disconcerting to hear the boos for Karim towards the end of the Real Sociedad game.
Zidane will make his decision over the final starting eleven after he’s weighed up all the odds; and pick the side he sees will best fit the task in hand on the night.
That may or may not include Karim Benzema or Gareth Bale - or even both – at the start of the game depending on how the coach decides to approach the game.
Second-guessing Unai Emery won’t come into it; Zidane picks his team with Real Madrid in mind not the opposition. Anyway, the PSG coach will be thinking about how to deal with Cristiano; since whatever his form may be in league fixtures, one thing for certain is that as a big game player CR7 delivers.
So by utilising the full squad including those who clearly won’t be available on the night, Zidane is sending out different messages and it all depends on which of those you want to hear.
The signs are there that he mean business. He’s already said that he’ll be doing what he can to stay at Real as long as possible and it would appear that Real Madrid’s squad feel the same way. They’ll be doing whatever they can to make that happen between now and the end of the season.
So are the team united in their desire to progress by seeing off the challenge of their French opponents? The attitude of the players and their support for Zidane says they are; but the question as always is can they perform on the night? It all depends on how well that attitude translates into the actual football on the pitch.
We saw at Valencia how the team rallied and got behind Zidane and the odds are that they’ll rally again. This time in front of the home crowd.
But of course it’s not just about passion, commitment and loyalty. The PSG game will be all about getting the tactics right, making sure people are as prepared as they can be beforehand, and picking the right team for the occasion.
Back to Zidane’s selection then, and will Jesús Vallejo, Dani Carvajal and Dani Ceballos have their own part to play tonight? Sure they will just by being there; and that goes for everyone in the squad from any of the subs who could potentially make a game-changing appearance to those won’t even make the bench.
But the real action will be on the pitch; and that’s where Zidane knows who’ll fit best on the night. I for one can’t wait to see who starts this game. That’s going to say a lot about his thinking and approach.
Just like it was at Valencia, this could well be another night of cold, clinical emotion on show; with hopefully a performance to match.