Zidane shelves league intentions as Madrid shift focus to Europe

Zidane made several changes ahead of Tuesday’s Group A game away at Galatasaray. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2019

Zidane shelves league intentions as Madrid shift focus to Europe

  • Real Madrid coach made several changes ahead of Tuesday’s Group A game

MADRID: Zinedine Zidane said in April Real Madrid would prioritize La Liga over the Champions League this season and their defeat to Real Mallorca on Saturday suggests they may not have the squad to go far in both.

“For us next year, the league must be our No. 1 priority,” Zidane said.

“It’s the longest competition, it’s the one that cannot be missed, and I’m going to put that in the heads of my players.”

Yet Zidane made several changes ahead of Tuesday’s Group A game away at Galatasaray and those who came in failed to impressed, with a blunt performance against Mallorca revealing familiar failings up front and causing Madrid to slip to their first league defeat of the campaign.

Some of the adjustments were enforced as Eden Hazard was absent following the birth of his fourth child on Friday while Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale were all nursing injuries of varying severity.

Others were seemingly chosen as Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal were rested, along with Fede Valverde, who had brought much-needed energy into the midfield before the international break.

Bale’s calf injury is believed to be minor but was considered too much of a risk and will also miss the trip to Turkey along with Ballon d’Or winner Modric.

Heavy rotation points to a belief in the utmost importance of the game against Galatasaray and a recognition from Zidane that Madrid cannot afford another misstep in Europe.

“The problem is we have to show every three days that we are good,” Zidane said on Saturday.

“That is our difficulty and that is what we do not do. We must have consistency. We have to have more life in our game if we want to do important things this year.”

They sit bottom of the group, with just one point from their opening two games and the prospect of failing to make the knock-out stages for the first time in the Champions League still faint, but a possibility nonetheless.

It also suggests for all the good intentions about consistency in La Liga and wrestling back some of the domination enjoyed by Barcelona over the last decade, for Real Madrid the Champions League perhaps never plays second fiddle.

After all, it was in the Champions League that Zidane forged his reputation as a coach, three triumphs in a row almost eradicating from memory his more disappointing period in the domestic league and cups.

Zidane might have weighed up that there is time and games to recuperate in La Liga that do not exist in Europe but losing to Mallorca does not come without a cost.

After five games unbeaten, doubts have returned about his team and the spotlight is back on their Frenchman.

Perhaps he hoped for more from those that came in. Isco, Luka Jovic and Vinicius Junior were all taken off in the second half on Saturday and while Vinicus is young and Jovic recently signed, it remains to be seen how long it might take to regain Zidane’s trust.

Alvaro Odriozola, in for Carvajal at right-back, was at fault for the goal and then sent off.

“Injuries are part of football,” Zidane said.

“There were other players and we had to do better.”

When Madrid won the league under Zidane in 2017, he successfully rotated in games against lesser sides but, despite around 300 million euros ($300 million) spent last summer, his squad might not have the same depth.

Galatasaray have won only four of their opening eight Super Lig games and have not reached the Champions League last 16 since 2014.

But Madrid cannot be complacent, having lost three of their last four visits to the Turkish giants.

Zidane’s hopes of progress will be transformed with a victory but he might need his best players back to do it.


Roger Federer outclasses Novak Djokovic to reach ATP Finals semis

Updated 15 November 2019

Roger Federer outclasses Novak Djokovic to reach ATP Finals semis

  • Defeat spells the end of Djokovic’s bid to overtake Rafael Nadal as No. 1
  • Federer, making his 17th appearance at the ATP Finals, reached his 16th semifinal

LONDOM: Roger Federer produced a serving masterclass as he avenged his Wimbledon defeat by Novak Djokovic and qualified for the last four of the ATP Finals on Thursday with a 6-4, 6-3 victory.
The Swiss, playing near-flawless tennis, broke once in the first set and twice in the second to beat his rival for the first time since 2015.
Roared on by a raucous packed house at London’s O2 Arena, the six-time champion dropped just seven points on his serve in the first set.
Defeat spells the end of Djokovic’s bid to overtake Rafael Nadal and finish as year-end number one.
The third-seeded Federer, making his 17th appearance at the ATP Finals, reached his 16th semifinal.
Djokovic needed to win the title to have a chance at knocking Nadal off the top spot, but now the Spaniard is guaranteed to finish the year as the top-ranked player for the fifth time, tying him with Federer, Djokovic and American Jimmy Connors.
“Great atmosphere, great opponent,” said Federer. “It was definitely incredibly special. I enjoyed it from the beginning.
“I played incredible and I knew I had to because that’s what Novak does. It was definitely magical. You guys made it super special, I can’t thank you enough.”
Speaking about what was different from Wimbledon, he said: “I won match point I guess. It was so close at Wimbledon. It was a privilege to play that match, so many ups and downs. I couldn’t be more happy right now.”
Federer finishes second in Group Bjorn Borg, behind Dominic Thiem, who beat both Federer and Djokovic earlier this week. The Swiss will face the Group Andre Agassi winner on Saturday.
Djokovic looked nervy at the start of the winner-takes-all contest, double-faulting twice in the third game, in which he was broken to love.
As cries of “Let’s go Roger, let’s go” rang around the cavernous stadium, Federer was dead-eyed on his serve, hitting eight aces, including a second-serve ace, in the first set.
Federer’s service level dipped in the second set and Djokovic earned his first break point of the match in the fourth game, which the Swiss saved.
He broke Djokovic again in the fifth game to take an iron grip on the match and repeated the trick to take the second set 6-3.
It was the 49th time Federer and Djokovic had met.
Djokovic, who now holds a 26-23 advantage, had won their past five meetings, including their epic five-set battle in the final at Wimbledon in July, during which he saved two championship points.
In Thursday’s early match in Group Bjorn Borg, which was a dead rubber, eighth seed Matteo Berrettini beat Thiem 7-6 (7/3), 6-3.
In doing so, the 23-year-old became the first Italian to win a match at the season-ending championships.
Berrettini arrived in London at a career-high number eight in the ATP rankings after starting the season outside of the top 50.
Fifth seed Thiem did not hit the heights he reached during his three-set win against Djokovic, notching just 12 winners compared with 50 against the Serbian.
Stefanos Tsitsipas has already qualified for the semifinals from Group Andre Agassi, leaving Nadal, defending champion Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev to scrap it out for the other spot on Friday.