A dress rehearsal this may be, but Real Madrid fans will wonder whether they’ll be watching a Champions League tragedy should Zinedine Zidane and Co flop against Real Sociedad.
White handkerchief sellers will have been doing a roaring trade in Madrid this week after a ‘disgusted’ Zidane watched little old Levante score a late leveller in their last La Liga outing.
While Wednesday’s visit of Paris Saint-Germain – on St Valentine’s Day no less – is the focus, Real must mend some broken hearts…
Isco facing the music
… starting with Isco, whose problem seems that he has not broken transfer records (like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale) or can play up front to replace a sub-par Karim Benzema.
Rumours persist that Zidane is intent on shipping him out this summer but the Frenchman’s leverage is slipping by the second as those five trophies in 2017 get buried by more listless performances.
Isco, while not at his best this term, is one of the few players capable of dovetailing Real’s midfield and attack and would have scored the winner off the bench against Levante if not for Giampolo Pazzini’s 89th-minute intervention.
The 25-year-old is hamstrung by the fact that Real are tactically inflexible in a 4-3-3 as three midfielders are required to do Bale and Ronaldo’s donkey work coming in off the flanks, while the Spaniard is best deployed behind the striker.
Should Isco start against La Real it may mean that Zidane is planning on benching him for the big one. But a standout performance by Isco could force his coach into a rethink, and given that his job could well depend on beating PSG, it’s no time to be stubborn.
Centre-backs against wall
While Real’s attack has clearly been disjointed, the travails of Cristiano Ronaldo et al up front have covered up the limitations of a flimsy back-line.
Captain Sergio Ramos has been in and out of the side due to injury but his presence has done little to solidify a defence that has conceded 21 goals in as many games.
There is a clear disconnect within that back four at the moment and worryingly some of the major errors are being committed by their most experienced members.
Ramos criticised Marcelo for being too ‘static’ in the draw with Levante yet the Spaniard, as well as centre-back partner Raphael Varane, have also looked a step behind the action of late and were equally culpable last weekend.
This could all be a by-product of Real’s lack of investment over the summer – another hungry and perhaps trophy-starved player to keep the old faces on their toes.
If they can’t keep out Sociedad, or at least deliver a much-improved performance, then what hope do they have against Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe?
La Real deal
That being said, La Real represent an intriguing challenge for Los Blancos. They have won just two of their last six league matches and will arrive at the Bernabeu without a revitalised Adnan Januzaj because of injury.
They do however still possess an abundance of attacking talent that should prove a worthwhile warm-up ahead of Wednesday’s fare.
In fact, Madrid have scored just four more goals than Sociedad in the league this year (45 to 41), with Barcelona and Valencia the only other teams to have found the back of the net more frequently.
Willian Jose has struck 16 times for La Real in 28 games this year and is the type of thorn-in-the-side striker that can ruffle Ramos and Varane.
Madrid may be troubled by two familiar faces as well. Asier Illarramendi, feted as Xabi Alonso’s successor for Spain once upon a time, is finally coming into his own at 27 years of age.
He struck twice in last weekend’s 5-0 demolition of Deportivo La Coruna and could well figure heavily in Spain’s World Cup campaign this summer.
Sergio Canales, another what-could-have-been talent for Real, is a possible replacement on the wing for Januzaj.
Utter the words ‘Real Madrid’ anywhere in the world and they are sure to draw a reaction – but some places love them just a little more than most.
That’s true of Krasnodar, the Russian city preparing to break records by hosting Los Blancos… in an Under-19s match.
A UEFA Youth League record 33,979 are expected to fill the Stadion Krasnodar on Wednesday night. For perspective, FK Krasnodar’s senior side draw an attendance of little more than 24,000 per game.
“We are happy with such attention. If we want our lads to play at the highest level we need these kinds of matches,” Krasnodar coach Murad Musaev told Sovetski Sport. “This is like an exam for all of us.
“Our board decided to play at the main arena if more than 5,000 tickets were sold. It was a pleasant surprise. We are happy to be seeing so many fans.”
The Real starlets, led by former Bernabeu hero Guti, and Krasnodar are beginning to reach the UEFA Youth League’s round of 16.
And while the Madrid-based teenagers are heavily favoured they best watch out for the tournament’s current top goalscorer.
Ivan Ignatyev, who has already struck twice for Krasnodar’s senior side this season, has fired 10 goals in just four games so far having qualified through the ‘domestic champions’ path.
Real however have had a tougher time so far, having to qualify from a group containing Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund and APOEL – opponents that mirrored their senior side’s fixtures in the UEFA Champions League.
Just like the men, Real qualified behind Tottenham in second place, with striker Dani Gomez doing most of the damage.
The 19-year-old scored in each of the five games he played in, scoring seven times – including a hat-trick against APOEL.
Real Madrid squad to face Krasnodar: Moha, Altube, Zabarte, Victor, Lopez, De la Fuente, Alex, Miguel, Miguel Baeza, Augusto, Alberto, Cesar, Martin, Antonio, Moha M., Oscar, Dani Gomez and Pedro.
Calls for an overhaul at floundering Real Madrid reached deafening levels this weekend after yet another poor result.
Here, we examine which one president Florentino Perez should make a ‘Galactico’.
The contrast could not be starker. Karim Benzema has scored twice in 15 La Liga games this season and his shot-conversion rate is just 6.9 per cent.
Kane was the top goal scorer across Europe in 2017 and on Sunday became the second-fastest player to reach 100 Premier League goals.
Such achievements mean a king’s ransom is required, yet at just 24 years old he represents an adroit investment in Madrid’s future.
One reason why the ‘Galactico’ era ultimately failed was buying stellar names after they’d peaked. Zinedine Zidane was purchased at 29, Luis Figo was nearly 28 and David Beckham had reached that mark.
They also would not just be buying an elite centre forward – they’d be drafting in a natural leader. Kane has captained both Spurs and England.
Too many have shirked responsibility this season at Madrid.
100 - @OptaJoe takes a look at how @SpursOfficial striker @HKane scored his 100 @PremierLeague goals & how quickly he reached the tally compared to previous leading strikers. Superstar. pic.twitter.com/c2nb9Nw90r— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 5, 2018
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy ensures that buying his best talent is more painful than pulling teeth.
Perez will shudder at memories of the drawn-out pursuit of Gareth Bale in 2013. Do Madrid have the stomach for a £200 million (Dh1 billion) saga?
Such an outlay necessitates a sure-fire hit. But English footballers have rarely travelled well.
Michael Owen lasted just a season at Madrid, Jonathan Woodgate’s calamitous, delayed debut mirrored his spell and injuries curtailed Laurie Cunningham. Even Beckham and Steve McManaman experienced stark ups and downs.
“He’s one of our own” is the chant that bellows at Spurs games and the feeling is mutual.
Most of Kane’s family are fans, he joined at 11 and is living his boyhood dream. Are Madrid welcome?
The interminable Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo debate would receive a novel twist with the electric Egypt forward’s capture.
Ex-Reds captain Jamie Carragher became the latest seasoned voice to label Salah the Argentine’s heir apparent after Sunday’s mesmerising, two-goal display against Spurs.
Buying him would make footballing fantasy, almost, come true.
These talents have travelled well across Europe, a valuable trait to possess. Salah’s torn it up in the Swiss Super League, Serie A and the Premier League by the age of 25.
Commendable strength of character to rebound from his Chelsea debacle and shine on Merseyside has also been exhibited.
If La Liga now awaits, the Middle East is already a huge market for Madrid and Salah’s purchase would take them into another stratosphere.
In the UAE alone, Madrid have inked lucrative deals with Emirates, NBAD and IPIC. Salah would provide an Arab idol to convert more supporters – and even potential sponsors.
An upgrade for the spent Benzema seems obvious, a case to begin the transition away from Ronaldo is worth debating.
But is a player of Salah’s talents required when you already possess Isco and Marco Asensio? If you are going to invest a figure touching on the world-record fee, there appear to be better options.
Belgium wizard Eden Hazard has yet to sign a new deal at Chelsea and is reported to desire Madrid. He is, unquestionably, more proven and would, arguably, be cheaper.
A glance across to El Clasico rivals Barcelona shows Salah will not be an easy signing to make.
Liverpool steadfastly rebuffed overtures for Brazil playmaker Philippe Coutinho throughout summer 2017. It took discontent, a huge sum and the opening of the winter market to belatedly land him.
Madrid cannot afford to hang about when such a daunting renovation is required.