Will Zinedine Zidane rest players ahead of Bayern Munich and other Real Madrid talking points

Matt Jones - Editor 20:53 17/04/2018
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Real Madrid play host to Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, looking for a win that will take them to within a point of fierce rivals Atletico Madrid in second place in La Liga.

There are six games to go this season and even though they will not retain their title, finishing above their famous foes from across town is something Real’s fans will be desperate for.

Ahead of the game against struggling opponents, we look at three talking points for head coach Zinedine Zidane.

Fighting ‘antimadridism’

Ahead of the game, Zidane talked about the rise of ‘antimadridism’, but claimed neither he nor his players are affected by it.

For all their brilliance and success, there is also a lot of animosity for Real, especially considering their stranglehold on the Champions League in recent years – with Los Blancos lifting three of the last four trophies having gone 12 years without a title.

There has been particular venom towards Real’s march to this year’s semi-finals, with a contentious penalty awarded to the hosts in the dying minutes against Juventus, who had clawed back a 3-0 first leg loss to lead 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“The issue of antimadridism has always existed, but there are more and more Madridistas every day,” said Zidane. “It is the best club, with the most fans, and the movement just keeps getting bigger.

Zidane is unbeaten in his four managerial games against Athletic Bilbao in La Liga (W3 D1).

Zinedine Zidane is not interested in whether people like his side or not.

Zinedine Zidane is not interested in whether people like his side or not.

Keeping hold of Kepa

Bilbao stopper Kepa Arrizabalaga could be in for an interesting afternoon, with the 23-year-old having two reasons for wanting to perform well.

Of course his first thought will be for Bilbao and keeping Real at bay, but he might also be thinking of next season and putting himself in the shop window.

Back in January, Real were negotiating with Athletic for their talented goalkeeper, but Zidane ultimately vetoed the deal. He said: “At the time we didn’t have to sign a goalkeeper. We had three and we still have three.”

However, the man himself said he actually rejected a move to Madrid, and promptly signed a seven-year deal with an €80 million (Dh362.8m) release clause. Kepa said he believed staying at Bilbao was the right decision as the club is his home.

Kepa has kept six clean sheets in the 24 games he has played in La Liga this season, making 74 saves – the 12th most out of all stoppers.

Kepa wants to keep hold of his place at Bilbao.

Kepa wants to keep hold of his place at Bilbao.

Chasing titles and chasing Atletico

One of the biggest conundrums facing Zidane is how much will he risk his stars in the pursuit of city rivals Atletico, with the first leg of the Champions League semi-final coming up next week against Bayern Munich.

A win here will send Los Blancos a point behind Diego Simeone’s side, temporarily at least prior to their trip to Real Sociedad on Thursday, but that could be enough to put Atleti under a bit of pressure.

Essentially, Real will get as much out as what they put in in the final weeks of the La Liga season as they chase a third-straight European crown, something no side has achieved in the Champions League era – stretching back 26 years.

Zidane should be able to give some of his stars a breather while giving others minutes. Athletic are languishing in 13th in La Liga and have lost their last 12 games in a row at the Bernabeu, conceding 44 goals (3.6 on average), their longest streak without collecting any points there.

Atletico Madrid are four points ahead of their city rivals in second place.

Atletico Madrid are four points ahead of their city rivals in second place.

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