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Know Your Opponent: A Q&A with Managing Madrid

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Oh no biggie, just the current European champions.

Real Madrid Training and Press Conference Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur’s Champions League campaign continues later today at the Santiago Bernabéu where current European Champions Real Madrid await them. Spurs and Real sit at the top of their group with 6 points while Borussia Dortmund and APOEL Nicosia both have nothing to show for their matches so far. This is the matchup we’ve all waited for in this group, as well as the return leg in a couple of weeks. Ahead of the match, I sat down with Om from our sister site Managing Madrid. We discuss Zidane’s legacy as a manager, Gareth Bale’s bald spot, and what to expect in this match from the Spanish giants.

CFC: Let’s start off with Zinedine Zidane and rewind the tape back to when he took over. Was there any belief that he would be this successful at managing early on?

MM: I don’t know if anyone predicted the crazy amount of success we’ve had since Zidane came on board, but Madrid’s fanbase had a surprising amount of belief in Zizou’s abilities as a coach. I was personally quite pessimistic, and I even wrote an article explaining why I thought Zidane was the wrong person to replace Benitez (yeah, not one of my finer moments). Some of my points were valid at the start; Zidane was inexperienced and tactically average, which did hurt the team at times. But he managed to push through those pains and grow on the run, blossoming into one of the very best managers in the world. Never been happier to be proven wrong.

Are you at all worried you might concede a result tomorrow? Like, even a little bit? Just a smidge?

Yep. Tottenham are a very good team and Pochettino is a very good manager. Plus, Real Madrid have sort of been struggling of late. Our offense has been quite profligate and there’s still a sense that things haven’t really clicked yet. If Spurs bring their A-game, they have a decent chance of getting a result. On the flip side, Madrid turn up in the big matches 99% of the time, so I dunno if I should be worried.

You just won La Liga and two consecutive Champions Leagues. How many seasons of not winning one or the other before you start complaining insufferably?

Doooood. Madrid fans complain insufferably even when we win. It’s incessant. Like even when we win back-to-back Champions Leagues and La Liga we do it.

(Writer’s note: We appreciate the honesty.)

Building upon the previous question, in a season where the Barcelona board have sold a world class player and reinvested it in with Paulinho-calibre players, how are you 3rd in a 2 team league?

Luck is one factor. Real Madrid’s expected goals total for La Liga is 20.16, yet we’ve only scored 12 goals. It’s unlikely Cristiano Ronaldo and co. continue to miss sitters for the rest of the season, so we should start banging them in soon enough.

There’s also the fact that Real Madrid have had their characteristic defensive lapses within games. Usually our offense makes up for it, but moments of poor marking and tomfoolery at the back can cost you when the goals aren’t there on the other end.

On Barca’s side, Ernesto Valverde has done a fairly decent job with his squad. He’s made the key decision of moving Messi to a false nine role, which has rejuvenated the Argentinian and propelled the club to 7 wins in 8 league games (though it’s numbed Suarez’s potential influence as he’s been shunted out wide to the left). Valverde has also gotten La Blaugrana to press really well, giving them a fundamental backbone to build off of. Nevertheless, they haven’t been great in all of their games and their chance creation scheme remains heavily Messi-reliant. I don’t expect this good looking run to last, given the tough string of fixtures coming up for them.

What does it take for you during a group game to sit up and take notice of a player as a possible Real Madrid transfer target and why will Harry Kane fall short of that?

If Harry Kane scores you might be fucked. Zidane was already praising Kane before the match, so an impactful performance from the forward would probably put him on Florentino Perez’s radar. I really hope we nab him next summer so we can say that we’ve stolen three of your prize jewels in consecutive fashion. ;)

(Writer’s note:)

Transfer rumors / tabloids have been swirling about Dele or Kane making their way to Madrid, but let's reverse the plot. Do you guys have any surplus players that could potentially find a home in north London? I mean, we would love Kovacic. Just saying.

F*ck off.

Gareth Bale left Tottenham with a full head of hair. We’ve since watched him come up with creative ways to cover up his ever-growing bald spot. What are you doing to him? Also...what’s the overall take on his Real Madrid career from the faithful?

We’ve treated him badly. Full stop. Madrid fans are not known for being great supporters and our reputation has only gotten worse with our treatment of Bale. I don’t know if it’s a majority or even close to one, but a sizable amount of Madridistas have taken to social media to abuse him when he fails to score, when he’s injured, or even when he tweets in support of the team. In the stadium, Bale has had to endure long periods of whistling few other players have had to face and there’s a certain Spanish contingent that really really wants Isco and Asensio to start every single game over the him.

That’s certainly had an effect on some of his performances, but injuries have been the main obstacle in his path to greatness at Madrid. Every time it feels like Bale is about to kick off and really dominate a season, his soleus muscle tears or his hamstring pulls up. The one time he was fit for most of the season – 2014/15 – he had long periods of average play and that’s when the fans completely turned on him. But to say that he’s been a failure is completely incorrect. In 2013/14, he was on fire for the second half of the season and he scored in both the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals. In 2015/16, he had his best ever season. He averaged a goal every 90 minutes in the league and he carried Madrid on his back when Ronaldo was out of the side for a couple games at the end of the season. 2016/17 was another case of injuries holding him back and currently he has swelling his soleus muscle keeping him out of the team. It’s been a case of up and down for the Welshman, but I firmly believe Bale’s signing has been a net positive for Madrid.

What’s your overall take on Spurs and how they’ve grown under Pochettino?

Pochettino is one of my favorite managers and I love what he’s done with Spurs. Before him you had Tim f*cking Sherwood, so it always going to be up from there, but Pochettino has really turned Spurs into potential title challengers. The way he’s overseen the development of Harry Kane and Dele Alli has been special and he’s turned Tottenham into one of the best pressing units in Europe. I genuinely believe things will get brighter every season this Argentinian is managing the club.

How do Real line up against Spurs?

Likely a 4-4-2 diamond with Bale out. Ronaldo and Benzema up top, Isco in the hole, Kroos and Modric as the interiors, Casemiro as the destroyer, Marcelo and Nacho as the fullbacks, Ramos and Varane as the center backs, and Navas as the keeper.

Prediction?

Real Madrid 3-1 Tottenham.