Zidane must patch up Real's defense for tough Sevilla game

AP
A loss would leave Real at risk of falling 11 points behind leader Barcelona and knock it out of the top-four spots – which earn UEFA Champions League berths.
AP
AFP

Borussia Dortmund defender Neven Subotic (right) vies with Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo during their UEFA Champions League Group H match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on December 6, 2017. Real won 3-2.

Zinedine Zidane has a big problem.

The Real Madrid coach is facing an important match against Sevilla on Saturday with his defense in tatters.

Marcelo, at left back, will be Zidane's only first-choice player in Real's back four and defensive midfield position.

A loss would leave Real at risk of falling 11 points behind leader Barcelona and knock it out of the top-four spots — which earn UEFA Champions League berths — before it travels to the United Arab Emirates for the Club World Cup.

Sergio Ramos will serve a one-game suspension for being sent off with two bookings during a 0-0 draw at Athletic Bilbao. Right back Dani Carvajal and holding midfielder Casemiro will also miss the Sevilla match because of accumulation of yellow cards after receiving bookings at San Mames.

To make matters worse, Real will be without Ramos' partner in the center of the defense after Raphael Varane was injured in the first half of its 3-2 home win over Borussia Dortmund in the UCL on Wednesday.

Zidane said that youngster Jesus Vallejo, who would be in line to take the place of Ramos or Varane, is doubtful. He is bothered by an unspecified minor injury.

"(Varane) has hurt himself and we will have to see what it is. He won't be with us Saturday, that much is certain," Zidane said after Wednesday's match. "And with Vallejo we will have to see."

Zidane said he still has options to patch up his defense, including using Marcos Llorente, a midfielder who has played very little for Zidane, as a defender.

The spate of suspensions and injuries leave Real looking at a possible backline of Marcelo and Nacho Fernandez, a trusted backup, along with Llorente and 19-year-old right back Achraf Hakimi. Mateo Kovacic could be shifted into Casemiro's place in front of the defense.

Hakimi and Llorente, both newcomers to the first squad, have combined for just over 1,000 minutes this season. Ramos and Varane have combined for more than 3,000.

"We will find a solution," Zidane said. "I am not worried about the match against Sevilla. I will focus on fielding a competitive team for Saturday and that's that."

Overhauling its bench

Real has already been criticized for overhauling its bench last offseason, when it brought in a bunch of younger players with promise while letting a number of time-tested players go. Among those were center back Pepe and right back Danilo.

That decision could come under more scrutiny on Saturday, if Real's inexperienced players don't hold up against a Sevilla team that arrives after qualifying for the last 16 of the UCL on Wednesday.

"It's clear they have a problem in defense," Sevilla midfielder Pablo Sarabia said. "We are aware of that and will try to take advantage of it."

Sevilla has options in attack, including striker Luis Muriel, forwards Wissam Ben Yedder and Manuel "Nolito" Agudo, and midfielder Ever Banega.

Sevilla heads into the match level on points with Real, which is clinging to fourth place thanks to its better overall goal average.

Sevilla will aim to capitalize on Real's uneven performances at the Bernabeu this season. Real has only won four of its seven league matches at home, was held 1-1 at home by Tottenham Hotspur in the UCL, and endured a 2-2 home draw with third-division club Fuenlabrada in the Copa del Rey last week.

"We know that if we win there," Sarabia said, "it will be an extra boost of confidence for everything that their stadium represents."

Special Reports
Top