Last week, Zidane faced a real dilemma when considering his team’s starting line-up for Munich. This week, a couple of injuries have reduced his options, and therefore one can guess his formation at the Santiago Bernabeu with a very small margin of error.
Isco and Daniel Carvajal will not play on Tuesday evening. Zidane has a few alternatives to cover for Isco, but the latter’s absence is a lot more complex to deal with. Indeed, it punishes the club’s poor decision making last summer, when they decided that replacing Danilo wasn’t worth the cash, and that the inexperienced Achraf should suffice to give Carvajal a rest every once in a while.
Unfortunately, Achraf still needs a lot of playing time, probably elsewhere next season, and at this point there’s no real substitute for Carvajal on the bench. Zidane will have to make do with Nacho – a more conservative decision, as the reliable defender (who has not played in a month!) is great tactically but won’t add much moving forward – or, as he did last Wednesday after Carvajal went down, he can use Lucas Vazquez as a very offensive fullback.
The positives of this second option are clear: Vazquez is faster than Nacho, which helps when trying to contain the still impressive Franck Ribery. He can also venture forward even better than Carvajal does, teaming up with Luka Modric on the right and obligating Ribery to track back to help his own full back. Keeping the Frenchman busy can’t be a bad thing, indeed.
The negatives have to do with Lucas’ less reliable tactical awareness, which was evident last Wednesday, when he left his position to try to finish a play initiated on Marcelo’s side, and suddenly realized he’d left his centrebacks alone, exposed to a counter, and had to run back like a madman, an extra effort he did not need at that final stages of the game. He’s also a fierce, but tiny player, and that can cost him dear when dealing with high crosses or corpulent forwards, something that Nacho does very well.
Incidentally, it makes sense to mention that the energetic Lucas was the top player in terms of distance covered last Wednesday, and that in fifth position of that ranking one could find no other than Ribery himself, a telling sign of how intense the fight was on that flank of the pitch.
Zidane’s decision will speak volumes about his overall attitude towards this match. If he goes for Nacho, he’ll convey the impression that he’s happy with the 2-1 advantage the team got in Munich, and that sitting back and waiting for Bayern is fine by him. Picking Vazquez will tell his players that he wants to win this match from the start. Personally, I don’t think Nacho is a bad option, and perhaps he could start with him at fullback and Lucas in front of him as a winger to contain Ribery. However, Zidane has given plenty of examples that show his preference for grabbing matches by the horns, so I’d bet on him playing with Navas; Vazquez, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Case, Kroos and Asensio; Benz and Cristiano.
Asensio, in outstanding form, will start. During this season he’s learned how to play on the left side of the midfield in a 4-4-2, and that’s been one of Zidane’s preferred options in the last couple of months. The youngster is no Vazquez tracking back or covering miles, but he does the job defensively, and drives defences crazy when unleashed forward. Marcelo tries to find him in space with long balls every once in a while, and it’s always a dangerous move. Asensio will be key to keep Bayern’s back four busy, preventing them from venturing forward too often.
The big question mark is Cristiano’s partner up front. Regardless of all the media comments, I still think that Zidane trusts Gareth Bale more than the Madrid press would have you believe. He’s used the Welshman more often than the general sentiment surrounding Bale would have us believe, and I would not be surprised if he joins the match in the second half. However, I also believe that in the eyes of Zidane this is an occasion for Benzema’s skills – or at least those that he used to display a few years ago and which we haven’t seen in a while.
Whatever the line-up, we’re bound to watch another classic this evening. Full house at the Bernabeu, Champions League evening atmosphere and two outstanding sides that are meeting each other in the semifinals of the top European tournament for the seventh time. It’s a pity that, especially on Bayern’s side, injuries have not been kind to this fixture, but both teams have a deep enough bench to put together another memorable show. Enjoy!