Football: No Real edge for Champions League clash with Atletico, says Zinedine Zidane

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (centre) in a training session with his team-mates ahead of the Champions League semi-final, first leg against rivals Atletico Madrid.
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (centre) in a training session with his team-mates ahead of the Champions League semi-final, first leg against rivals Atletico Madrid.PHOTO: REUTERS

He expects a tight battle despite Real's recent dominance over Atletico

MADRID • Past Champions League glory over Atletico Madrid is of no advantage to Real Madrid for today's semi-final, first leg between the pair, Real coach Zinedine Zidane claimed yesterday.

Real have beaten Atletico in each of the past three seasons in the Champions League, including twice in the final in agonising circumstances for the red and white part of Madrid in 2014 and last year.

"What happened in the past is in the past, we can't rely on that now," said Zidane. "It has been positive for us, but now it is a completely different tie and they will be doing their utmost to go through as well.

"The extra motivation comes from it being a Champions League semi-final."

Both sides are seeking historic firsts as Real eye a 12th European crown in Cardiff on June 3 by becoming the first side to retain the trophy in the Champions League era.

Atletico are still seeking their first Champions League win and are sure to be fired up by the chance to finally avenge their European heartbreak against their fiercest rivals.

Atletico led until the 93rd minute of the 2014 final when Sergio Ramos' header sparked a Real fightback as they went on to win 4-1 in extra-time.

A year later, Javier Hernandez got the only goal of a bad-tempered tie as Real progressed 1-0 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.

And in last season's final, Real emerged victorious in a penalty shoot-out in Milan after a 1-1 draw.

"It was the most stressful moment in my entire career," Real playmaker Isco said of the shoot-out.

"I've been in Real Madrid for four years and in each of the four we've faced them in the Champions League. Hopefully the outcome will be the same as in previous years.

"They'll be desperate to beat us after the two Champions Leagues that we've won."

Winger Gareth Bale and central defender Pepe are Real's only injury absentees.

Isco is expected to take Bale's place, while the fit-again Raphael Varane will replace Pepe in the only two changes Zidane is likely to make from the side that drew 1-1 with Atletico at the Bernabeu in LaLiga just over three weeks ago.

Atletico have more injury worries as Jose Maria Gimenez suffered a groin problem in Saturday's 5-0 thrashing of Las Palmas to join right-backs Juanfran and Sime Vrsaljko on the sidelines.

Coach Diego Simeone will therefore be forced into a defensive reshuffle with Stefan Savic, a centre-back by trade, moved to right-back with Lucas Hernandez partnering Diego Godin at the heart of the defence.

Yannick Carrasco is also a major doubt after the Belgian winger suffered a collarbone injury in last week's 1-0 defeat by Villarreal.

The return of Kevin Gameiro, though, is a huge boost for Simeone as the French international scored twice in his first start for six weeks at the weekend.

Zidane expects another tightly contested battle between the two most consistent sides in the Champions League over the past four years.

"In the past four or five years they have been a very good side that has improved every year," said the Frenchman.

"They always give us a hard game. The strength they have is that they never give up, no matter what happens. They fight, battle, they know their strengths and use them as best they can."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline 'No real edge for clash: Zidane'. Print Edition | Subscribe