Squad depth keeps rare dou­ble alive

New Straits Times - - Sport -

MADRID dress­ing room... and then they ar­rived in Paris and played us off the park.”

Even this sea­son the lure of be­com­ing the first side to suc­cess­fully de­fend the Cham­pi­ons League has edged out that of end­ing Barcelona’s dom­i­nance of La Liga.

That has been ev­i­denced by coach Zine­dine Zi­dane’s line-ups for a string of re­cent Liga games sand­wiched be­tween big Euro­pean ties.

None of Ron­aldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Ben­zema, Luka Mo­dric or Toni Kroos started any of Real’s last three away games.

In their ab­sence the likes of Isco, Al­varo Mo­rata and Marco Asen­sio have shone and Real won all three games, scor­ing 13 times in the process.

Real have al­ready played 53 games this sea­son across five com­pe­ti­tions and even two con­ti­nents af­ter trav­el­ling to Ja­pan for the Club World Cup.

Yet they re­main on course for the most suc­cess­ful sea­son in the club’s sto­ried re­cent his­tory thanks to the depth of their re­sources.

Which has thrown up a new dilemma: the per­for­mances of Real’s young­sters have left ques­tion marks over whether a few star names de­serve their place in the team for to­day’s semi-fi­nal.

Real smashed De­portivo la Coruna 6-2 on Wed­nes­day with a team con­tain­ing nine changes from the side that lost El Cla­sico to Barcelona days pre­vi­ously.

Yet they laboured to beat Va­len­cia 2-1 thanks to Marcelo’s late strike when Zi­dane re­sorted to largely his pre­ferred XI on Sat­ur­day.

“For me, it is harder to play against Real’s B team than their A team,” said De­portivo boss Pepe Mel.

Bale’s ab­sence through in­jury means that one of Isco or Asen­sio are likely to fi­nally start one of Real’s big­gest games of the sea­son this week.

How­ever, even for Real, a squad of this size and tal­ent may be a one-sea­son lux­ury.

Isco, Mo­rata and James Ro­driguez have all been heav­ily linked with moves away from the Bern­abeu in the sum­mer due to their lack of game time.

At 21 and 22 re­spec­tively, Asen­sio and Mateo Ko­vacic have the time to be more pa­tient, but they too will ex­pect to grad­u­ate to first-team reg­u­lars — or find some­where else where they will be. AFP


Real Madrid play­ers train at Valde­be­bas sport com­plex in Madrid yes­ter­day, in prepa­ra­tion for their Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal, first leg match against Atletico Madrid to­day.

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