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Know Your Opponent: A Q&A with Managing Madrid

Los Blancos make a visit to Wembley.

Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur host Real Madrid at Wembley Stadium this Wednesday Evening for Matchday 4 in Group H. Spurs and Los Blancos currently sit at the top of the group, both on seven points with identical tie-breakers down the line. A victory means taking a stranglehold on this group, no matter which side takes it down while a draw could also mean a deathblow for Dortmund if they don’t get a result, who are desperate to get back into the race. I sat down with Kiyan Sobhani over at Managing Madrid to talk about Real Madrid’s possible crisis, who is on their wishlist next summer, and what to expect tomorrow from Los Blancos.

CFC: Soooooooo.....Real Madrid are kind of the walking wounded right now? Who is out, who is a doubt, and are you bringing a M*A*S*H unit with you just in case?

MM: They are not just walking wounded. They have no legs, no arms, and are just kind of rolling down a hill. Gareth Bale is out. Raphael Varane is out. Dani Carvajal is out. Keylor Navas is out. Mateo Kovacic is out. Isco and Marcelo are question marks. In but off form this entire season: Asensio, Ronaldo, Benzema. In but uncharacteristically bad against Girona on the weekend: Modric, Kroos, Casemiro, Ramos.

With the match taking place at Wembley, do you anticipate any tactical changes on how Zidane will approach the match?

Real Madrid struggled finding space in front of Poch's tight scheme, so the build-up and movement without the ball, particularly down central channels, needs to get better. This is too good of a team to rely on terrible crosses as it did in the first meeting.

It will be interesting to see Zidane's answer to Harry Kane's free role. Though, if Kane isn't available it's less interesting, obviously. I don't think Zidane can justify rolling with Achraf, either, given how raw he is and how easily Vertonghen singlehandedly man-handled him -- allowing Tottenham to shift their focus to the opposite flank to close down Marcelo and Isco. Not having Carvajal and Varane really hurts though, and makes benching Achraf more difficult. But I'd like to see Nacho shift to right back and have Jesus Vallejo start alongside Sergio Ramos.

I'll say this: Zidane always pleasantly surprises in big Champions League matches, so, there's that.

Real Madrid are currently third in La Liga, sitting on 20 points. They're eight back of Barcelona and, more surprisingly, the other three teams in the top four are all undefeated while Real have two losses. Are Real actually in crisis mode?

Relative to what is expected of a back-to-back European Champion? Yeah. I mean, there's a crisis every month of every year according to Real Madrid's dramatic fan base and Spanish press, but this is as close as it gets to a real crisis. Though, I'm not putting it past this team to turn things around and peak next Spring as they typically have under Zidane. The problem right now is, the fundamental things that they were doing at such an elite level just two months ago (perfect cohesive pressing, reading passing lanes, scoring efficiently) have completely abandoned them, and it makes zero sense. It's like their powers are zapped right now. We're giving away the ball unforced in dangerous areas, are not in the right spots defensively, and just look disjointed. You know in FIFA, when you win 50 times in a row, and think you're invincible, then you lose like 15 games in a row and just can't do anything? That's what this feels like.

Real Madrid has never, in its history, won the league after an eight-point deficit. It's tough, but this team has defied history already last season. I think you essentially have to be so bold, confident, and hungry, that you have to look at both Clasico games and say "Yeah, we're gonna get six points there", and then just pounce on the other two points somewhere else.

When Zidane took over mid-season from Rafa in 2016, the team was behind Barcelona by 10 points, and Zidane ended up cutting it to just one. So, I guess it's not inconceivable.

We've all heard the reports from tabloid papers that Real Madrid want Harry Kane, but is he really the proper fit for Real? I know Real kind of forced him out the door, but doesn't someone like Alvaro Morata fit Zidane's system better than Kane?

In a vacuum, Morata is better than Benzema right now, but keeping him was really complicated (fit with Cristiano, not accepting a bench role, etc). I wrote about it here in case any of your readers are interested.

I think Kane would fit here like a glove. Don't tease me.

Let's fast forward to next Summer. No matter where the silverware goes, let's assume that Zidane is still in charge of Real Madrid. Who is at the top of his wishlist for transfers? I know Karim Benzema is approximately 97 years old and while Ronaldo is still Ronaldo, he's no spring chicken either.

I think De Gea or Kepa are obvious ones. A striker: Timo Werner, Harry Kane (yum yum) and a million others we'll be linked with. We're pretty stacked with youth and talent in most positions apart from those two.

On the flip side, who do you think will be sold or is expendable next Summer?

I'll try to skip around this, but would basically just be asking these questions in the summer:

  1. At what point do we accept Ronaldo is not Ronaldo anymore, and is holding the team back? It's likely he'll turn it around and transcend everyone and go into unicorn mode like he does every season, but I guess at some point, he... Stops being that?
  2. Will Bale go through one or two more one-to-two-month injuries? Incredible player, but he's the Joel Embiid of football at this point.
  3. Will Karim turn it around? I think he stays though, in a Higuain / Benzema type rotational system with a new striker.
  4. Will Keylor consistently be good (he's been great this season, after a down season last year) accept a bench role if we sign a keeper?

I basically think this will be a huge year of evaluation for the BBC.

Given Real's situation with the physio room renting out space to anyone in the squad, what do you expect the Starting XI to look like for tomorrow?

Casilla; Nacho, Ramos, Vallejo/Achraf, Marcelo/Theo; Casemiro, Modric, Kroos; Isco, Cristiano, Benzema

How about a prediction?

Tottenham 1 - 2 Real Madrid

As always, we want to thank Kiyan and those over at Managing Madrid for the information. I did an interview with them as well over at their site, so you can check it out when you get a moment. It’s a big one tomorrow!