Leganes are in fine form while the visiting team are still finding their feet under the French coach, whose selection decisions are sure to raise a few eyebrows, whatever they are. Let’s look ahead to the action with the key talking points.
Another ‘Leganazo’ for Zidane?
Recently returned Real boss Zidane does not have fond memories of taking on Leganes, who handed the Frenchman one of his most humiliating defeats during his last stint in the Bernabeu hotseat with a 2-1 exit from the Copa del Rey in January 2018.
Although he has never said so publicly, many people believe that night – which quickly became nicknamed as the ‘Leganazo’ by the Spanish media – was the first time that Zidane set his mind upon leaving the club at the end of the season after deciding he could take the team no further, something he duly did despite finishing the campaign with his third consecutive Champions League title.
LEGANAZO! Tomorrow’s headlines today…— Andy West (@andywest01) January 24, 2018
Gaining revenge over the Pepineros on this occasion will not be straightforward at all, because Leganes are in excellent form. They have collected seven points from their last three games to ease relegation fears, and even open up an outside chance of challenging for a European place.
The hosts are particularly dangerous in their small but atmospheric Butarque stadium, only losing twice at home in La Liga this season and already claiming the scalp of Barcelona. Mauricio Pellegrino’s team are a tough and uncompromising physical outfit who will certainly not roll over, and Zidane’s men will need to roll up their sleeves and work hard if they want to avoid another embarrassment at the hands of their tiny crosstown rivals.
Real condemned to the graveyard shift
Perhaps the biggest indication yet of just how poor this season has been for Real Madrid is not the number of points they have, or the fact that they are already out of both cup competitions, or even that they are on their third manager of the campaign. Perhaps, rather, it is the timing of this trip to Leganes: 21:00 (GST: 23:00) on a Monday.
This is the graveyard shift of Spanish football, a kick-off time which has proved to be so unpopular with supporters that a range of passionate protests across the country have led to the fixture slot being abandoned next season.
⚽💪 The lads are out on the #RMCity training pitch for their Sunday session! It’s the last one ahead of Monday’s #RMLiga clash against @CDLeganes_en. #HalaMadrid pic.twitter.com/B45Ykofqqs— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) April 14, 2019
But with most of us reflecting upon the league action of the weekend gone by and starting to look forward to the resumption of the Champions League in the coming days, Real’s fall from grace is reflected in their ‘slap in the face’ of being scheduled to play in the Monday night slot usually the sole preserve of lesser lights.
In that unusual scenario, there is a danger that Real’s superstars will struggle to rise to the unusual occasion of a Monday contest, and Zidane will have to ensure the motivation of his players matches that of their opponents, who will certainly not lack any impetus in their desire to claim a famous scalp.
Future ruling the present
A notable aspect of Zidane’s first few games back in charge has been his willingness to rotate through his squad, fuelling all sorts of speculation about potential changes to the squad during what is expected to be an extremely busy summer.
Practically every question faced by Zidane during his pre-game press conference on Sunday focused upon his plans for the future, with the potential sale of players such as Toni Kroos, Isco, Gareth Bale and Marcos Llorente overwhelming any interest in the fact that a game is actually taking place.
It’s a situation that Zidane has become accustomed to since his return to the club, with his every utterance scrutinised and speculated upon in an attempt to read through the lines and conclude that his bland statement ‘I like player X’ really means ‘I want to sell player X’.
Zidane has a big squad so a few players will naturally have to miss out, and whoever doesn’t make the starting XI will find themselves at the centre of ‘shock departure’ stories in a weird scenario whereby the future is decisively ruling the present.
One change on Monday night could be the return of Dani Carvajal following six weeks out through injury, while Toni Kroos could be forced out through illness … or does that actually mean Zidane is preparing to sell the German midfielder? We will find out in the summer, but the speculation will continue unabated until then.