Sunday 25 February 2018

Zidane feels the heat with Pochettino in the wings

Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane Photo: REUTERS/Sergio Perez
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane Photo: REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Jeremy Wilson

The entire football world will focus its gaze tonight on Madrid but the repercussions of another bad night for Zinedine Zidane may be most keenly felt in north London.

It may seem bizarre that the future of a manager aiming to become the first to win three consecutive European Cups is under such scrutiny, but this is Real Madrid and a glance at the La Liga table is both startling and instructive.

Fourth and some 17 points behind Barcelona - a situation compounded by their humiliation in the Spanish cup against Leganes - means that the Champions League is now regarded as Zidane's last shot at salvation.

And, should he depart this summer, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino will figure prominently on Madrid's shortlist.

Harry Kane is also an expected transfer target and, while Spurs remain adamant about their chances of keeping these two increasingly talismanic figures, their summer could still be heavily influenced by how Madrid handle a last-16 fixture against Paris St-Germain.

Adamant

Zidane was adamant that his own future did not feature in his pre-match thoughts, but what he did again underline was that his faith in the group of players who delivered a rare La Liga-Champions League double only nine months ago has not dimmed.

He had already decided the team that would face PSG several days ago and the expectation is that he will select a front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale to go head-to-head with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani.

"I have nothing to prove, I don't care what people say about me, I just want to play the game," said Zidane.

More illuminating was Marcelo for the very obvious connection between Zidane and his players.

Zidane's great strength has been his man-management, loyalty and willingness to listen to his squad and, amid a 17-game unbeaten home run in Europe, those players have delivered in this competition.

Marcelo spoke with feeling when he said of Zidane: "He has told us what he had to say - that he is with us and we are with him until the death."

PSG manager Unai Emery believes they have learned valuable lessons from last year's humiliating 6-1 to Barcelona in the second leg of their last-16 tie against Barcelona.

"It was two games. One was the best and the other the worst game of the season. We're more experienced, better prepared."

Telegraph.co.uk

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