Zidane mustn’t make the same mistakes as Benitez in el Clásico clash

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The team selected by Rafael Benitez for his ever Clasico earlier this season wasn’t in line with his standard managerial blueprint.

While Barcelona made tactical sacrifices, bringing in the altruistic Sergi Roberto into the side in place of Munir El Haddadi on the right flank, Los Blancos were cavalier. Danilo was drafted in at right-back in place of the steady Dani Carvajal, while midfield anchor Casemiro was sacrificed for the intricacy of James Rodriguez.

For a manager who has made a career out of getting the best out of his respective sides in big matches through cohesion and clarity, this was a deviation from the norm. The team was fragmented, imbalanced and Barcelona ran riot; Roberto played in Luis Suarez for the opening goal early on, which was the cue for the Uruguayan and Neymar to run riot.

It was as if the manager had had a tap on the shoulder pre-match, encouraging him to deploy a side to go toe-to-toe with the stellar attacking talent available to the opposition. Real wanted to puff their chest out, but it backfired spectacularly.

SEE MORE: 7 ways to watch el Clasico for free

The game finished 4-0 to Barcelona in the end and while some Madridistas waved white handkerchiefs in anger at the final whistle, apathy engulfed the Santiago Bernabeu. Although he survived for 54 more days, it was the beginning of the end for Benitez.

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He won’t get the chance to right the wrongs of that November night on Saturday, but the man who has taken over from the maligned former boss can learn from the errors made in his team selection in the capital.

As a figure immersed in Madridismo, ideally Zinedine Zidane will not want to go to the Nou Camp with a remit of containing Barcelona. Real, after all, have some wonderful players, a footballer they consider to be the best on the planet in Cristiano Ronaldo and in Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, two superb supplementary figures.

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Of course, they will all feature on the night for Los Blancos and each, with their blend of pace, power and predatory instincts, have the quality to cause Barcelona’s defense issues. But further back in the side, Zidane has some big decisions to make.

The man who was taken out of the side for the reverse fixture was Casemiro and he must come in. It was embarrassingly evident just how much he was missed as Neymar, Suarez et al reveled in the chasm between the Real midfield and defense at the Bernabeu, leaving Luka Modric exposed to the Barcelona press.

At the Camp Nou, where Barcelona win pin Real back for long spells, as this side will do to any opponent, the Brazilian’s presence will be paramount, even at the expense of a schemer in the mould of Rodriguez or Isco. Casemiro adds structure behind Modric and Toni Kroos, plus support to a defense that’s been a little brittle at times this term.

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In defense too, while the likes of Raphael Varane, an undeniable star of the future, and Danilo, a marauding full-back, have roles to play for this team, this occasion, where the modus operandi must be to stop the Barcelona attacking trident, is more suited to the more rugged, battle-hardened qualities of men like Carvajal and Pepe.

It’s a set-up—based on containing, winning the ball back and springing with purpose—that suits the players Real possess. And even though Barcelona have tweaked their own style since, it was also the formula used by the team when they last won at the Nou Camp, with Ronaldo’s iconic “calma” goal, the winner in a 2-1 triumph, coming at the end of a sweeping counter-attack.

Zidane needs graft from his players too, something which, as a more emotional presence, he has drawn more of than Benitez. At the Bernabeu heads were dropped, shoulders were slumped and work-rate dwindled once the Catalans went ahead in the game. As is evident by the end result, do that and this Blaugrana side will take you apart.

Of course, there’s the danger that Zidane could opt for this more pragmatic plan, Barcelona could still win and the manager would be scalded for curtailing ambitions. Setting up on the back foot would almost be an admission that the Blaugrana are superior and while results suggest that’s the case at the moment, conceding that is the case is avoided as often as possible in the capital.

Nevertheless, an attacking side would lend itself to a frantic game, which would merely enhance the chances of their opponents of putting together their attacking patterns, especially the influence of the coveted Barcelona trio of Neymar, Suarez and Lionel Messi, who was only on the bench the last time these two sides met.

Zidane will be well aware that the wounds from the loss last time out will take time to heal and although a win would do wonders for him in the nascent stages of his tenure, it’d be a disaster if they were to be slashed open again. Given the chance, Barcelona are well capable of doing so.

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