Barcelona — Zinedine Zidane will make his coaching debut on
Saturday when Real Madrid hosts Deportivo La Coruna in the Spanish league.
The former France great was promoted from managing Madrid's
reserve team, which plays in the third division, to taking over for Rafa
Benitez after the Spaniard was fired following Madrid's 2-2 draw at Valencia
A fan favorite from his five seasons at Madrid, a warm
welcome is expected for Zidane by the Santiago Bernabeu crowd. Disgruntled fans
had called for Benitez to be fired following the team's inconsistent form that
has Madrid in third place, four points off the pace of provisional leader Atletico
"The important thing is to keep the players' spirits
high, I think they've done a good job," Zidane said at his first news
conference on Tuesday. "We have to think that the work done by Benitez has
been good and I want to wish him all the best for the future. My message is
Barcelona, in second and two points adrift and with a game
in hand, will have played earlier on Saturday at Camp Nou against Granada.
Atletico waits until Sunday in a tough visit to fifth-place Celta Vigo.
Here are some things to know about this weekend's Spanish
Also read: Madrid mad to appoint Zidane, says Hitzfeld
Zidane etched his place in Madrid's lore with his unique
combination of dribbling, passing and scoring skills, which reached their
pinnacle when he scored a spectacular volley for the winning goal in the 2002
Champions League final.
He now must quiet those who question president Florentino
Perez's decision to turn the star-studded squad over to a coach whose resume is
limited to a year-and-a-half in the third division and a stint as a first-team
Zidane has promised to promote an "attractive, but
balanced" style, and said that he will maintain the trio of strikers
formed by Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
"I want to bring the exciting game that this club has
always had," Zidane said. "The important thing is to play football
and my job will be based on playing from the back, progressing in to the
opposition half quickly and having possession of the ball."
Besides who will start among the glut of midfielders, the
question is whether Zidane will keep Bale on the right side of the attack, as
opposed to his natural place on the left, after Benitez scrapped his experiment
to use him as a central playmaker.
It has been a long time since Deportivo inspired fear in its
opponents. But striker Lucas Perez, with 12 goals, and an overachieving bunch
coached by Victor Sanchez del Amo has made Deportivo a formidable foe.
Seventh-place Deportivo has as many losses as Madrid does—
three— and rallied for a 2-2 draw at Barcelona last month.
PRELUDE TO BALLON D'OR
Lionel Messi will get another opportunity to shine against a
struggling Granada two days before he is favored to win a record fifth FIFA
Ballon d'Or award.
One thing is certain, the recognition for the world's best
player will remain in the Spanish league, with Ronaldo and Neymar the other
finalists at Monday's gala in Zurich.
TIME TO SHINE
Atletico has risen to the top on the strength of its defense
anchored by goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who has conceded a league-low eight goals.
Barcelona is second with 15.
But coach Diego Simeone is still looking for strikers
Jackson Martinez and Fernando Torres to rediscover their scoring touch.
Torres has been stuck on 99 career goals for Atletico since
Sept. 19, a scoring drought of 19 straight appearances, while Jackson hasn't
scored in three games since returning from injury. The Colombia striker has
only three goals since transferring from FC Porto last year.
Celta has lost two straight in the league and will have one
day less to prepare for the match with a Copa del Rey game against Cadiz on
Thursday. Atletico played on Wednesday, drawing 1-1 at Rayo Vallecano.For
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