It’s been widely reported that in naming his squad for the Champions League match against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Friday, Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has left out Gareth Bale but included Sergio Ramos who is suspended.
Zidane obviously feels that his captain’s presence is essential on the night.
Zidane has also omitted James Rodríguez from the squad that travelled to Manchester. The Colombian hasn’t had the best of times at Real Madrid and like Gareth Bale, has missed a considerable amount of time through injuries.
James, though, always appears desperate to play and his eagerness to return, even despite the injuries, has been the centre of frequent disagreements with the coaches over his fitness. James has, at times, been vociferous in emphasising that he is fit for selection. Zidane, though, remains less convinced.
Zidane will just be happy that he has virtually a fully-fit squad to choose from at last. When La Liga restarted in June after the coronavirus lockdown ended, Real Madrid had four players unavailable through injury.
Luka Jović had a heelbone fracture and Mariano Díaz had a broken toe, while Nacho and Lucas Vázquez had injuries to the thigh and calf muscles respectively. Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard were technically fit for Madrid’s opening game against Eibar at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium in Valdebebas, but lacked match practice at that stage.
Since then Zidane has seen Isco (hamstring) and Marcelo (adductor) miss game time, and Eden Hazard has been troubled by the ankle that was operated on in February. Mariano also had a few muscular problems before contracting COVID-19, for which he is now self-isolating at home.
Sergio Ramos, included in Zidane’s squad for the City game, picked up a contact injury himself soon after the restart of La Liga, being forced to retire from the match against Real Sociedad with a knee injury following a collision with the Basque side’s Alexander Isak.
It says a lot for Zidane’s feelings about his captain that he’s currently in Manchester. There’s no doubt that despite the views of the British media, Sergio Ramos is an inspirational figure for Real Madrid and as a natural leader, his popularity and respect within the dressing room is undoubted.
Zidane obviously feels that he’ll get more out of an unavailable-for-selection Ramos than he will from a fully-fit Gareth Bale; whose appearances since the restart have been limited both through injury and by the technical decisions of the coach, with the latter being something that Zidane has a responsibility to make in the best interests of the team.
Zidane remains equally as unmoved by the views of the British media as to the real reasons why the Welshman has been left out as he is over their obsession with Sergio Ramos since the Champions League Final in Cardiff three years ago.
Some would argue that it was at that point when Zidane set out his stall for his future at Real Madrid and decided that he not only needed a break from the game, he needed to have the backing of the president, Florentino Pérez in order to manage Madrid in his own way on his return.
Zidane’s memorable comments on leaving the club differed from previous coaches exiting the Bernabéu in that there was no finality about his decision. It was clear that he would return. It’s also interesting to note that the relationship Sergio Ramos has with Florentino Pérez is on a similar level to that of Zidane’s.
With the game in Manchester being of such significance for Real Madrid, it’s no wonder that Zidane has chosen the squad that he’s most comfortable with, even if his skipper is unavailable on the night.
Eden Hazard, although having a difficult time since his return from surgery, can be a game-changer. Marco Asensio finally seems convinced that Zidane isn’t going to replace him at the first opportunity and nobody is any doubt that Thibaut Courtois is the goalkeeper Zidane wanted in preference to Kepa Arrizabalaga two years ago.
It goes further than that. Outside of Real Madrid, Karim Benzema’s contribution to the team is only really being acknowledged now, and the subtle changes Zidane has made to the playing side of the club have become a feature of the current campaign.
As for the bond between Zidane, his staff, and the players he took to Manchester; well, that’s obvious.
Zinedine Zidane certainly isn’t one to make outrageous claims in pre-match press conferences but Real Madrid are clearly hoping this season will end with winning a fourth Champions League title under the French coach.
They’ll train in Manchester before the match oblivious to the comments in the British media about Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos. Like Zidane, Madrid’s players will only be focussed on the game.