Zidane will not take any risks on Benzema fitness against Atalanta

By Sports Desk February 20, 2021

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane will not risk playing Karim Benzema against Atalanta if the striker is not fully fit.

Benzema missed Madrid's narrow 1-0 win over Real Valladolid in LaLiga on Saturday due to an unspecified knock.

Los Blancos struggled in the absence of their leading scorer as they managed just two shots on target at Estadio Jose Zorrilla.

However, Zidane will only name Benzema in his travelling party for Wednesday's Champions League last-16 first leg with Atalanta if he can first prove his fitness.

"We will see tomorrow," Zidane said. "I can't tell you right now. We are not going to risk him. If he's not ready, he won't be used."

Benzema was one of nine first-team players missing for Madrid against Valladolid, with the likes of Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal and Eden Hazard also nursing injuries.

But Zidane is unsure how many – if any – of his walking wounded have any chance of returning for the trip to Bergamo.

"The situation is what it is," he said. "There are many casualties. I hope to recover players, but I don't know if that will be next week.

"At the moment there are many casualties, but the players we have are committed and we have to continue with them. It's complicated, but you have to continue."

Despite the growing list of injuries, Madrid beat Valladolid thanks to Casemiro's second-half header to make it four LaLiga wins in a row, the last three of those victories without conceding.

Madrid are now within three points of leaders Atletico Madrid, who have dropped points in three of their last four matches but still have a game in hand to play.

Zidane's men travel to the Wanda Metropolitano on March 7 and the Frenchman wants his side to keep putting points on the board before then.

"There is no need to send a message. It is an important victory. It is the fourth victory and we have to continue our business," he said.

"You have to be happy with the game, with the result and with the clean sheet.

"We are in a good moment and have found some consistency with our results. The whole team defends very well. With the ball we can do things. 

"We arrived well and we have to rest well. We are going to prepare for the game on Wednesday in the best possible way."

Casemiro had missed two glorious headed chances before finding the back of the net with his third, which came via a superb Toni Kroos delivery from deep.

Kroos created four big opportunities in total and had both the most touches (83) and completed more passes (73) than any other player on the field.

Match-winner Casemiro was keen to share the plaudits with his team-mate, who now has five assists in his last five appearances.

"You have to be there to finish it off. But the credit goes to Toni, who always puts them well," he told Movistar. "I had three chances and I had to put away the third one.

"We still believe in the LaLiga title. All games are important. There are 42 points left. There are many points left and we believe in ourselves."

Casemiro's headed goal was his fourth of the LaLiga season - more than any other midfielder in Europe's top five leagues.

However, Madrid may well have been on the end of a shock defeat if not for Thibaut Courtois, the Belgium international making three big saves with the game still all square.

"We know that we are all important," Casemiro said. "Courtois with the stops - I'm not surprised, he always does that. 

"It's was a good goal for me to score. But we cannot speak of a single player today. This victory belongs to everyone."

Related items

  • 'You always learn more from bad situations' - Chelsea's Werner expects to rediscover best form 'You always learn more from bad situations' - Chelsea's Werner expects to rediscover best form

    Chelsea forward Timo Werner is confident he can rediscover his best form in front of goal after learning on the job during a tough first season in English football.

    The 24-year-old has endured an underwhelming campaign since joining Chelsea from RB Leipzig in a deal worth a reported £53million last June.

    Werner ended the longest goal drought of his career with a strike in the win over Newcastle United last month, but he has failed to score in Chelsea's subsequent three games.

    He has netted 10 times in 35 appearances overall this term, half of those goals coming in the Premier League, compared to 34 goals in 45 outings in his final season for Leipzig.

    Germany international Werner recently admitted to struggling with the demands of Premier League football but is hopeful he can now make a bigger contribution, with Chelsea facing Liverpool on Thursday.

    "I never had a run like it in my career before," he told BBC Sport. "It was tough for me because I want to help the team. I want to score, it's in my nature, I am a striker. 

    "You can always learn more from the bad situations. I learned to trust in myself, to give everything on the pitch, not only think about goals and fight for the team.

    "Now I hope this period is gone and I score a few more goals until the end of the season."

    Werner's 10 goal involvements in the Premier League this term from 25 appearances - five goals and five assists - is the most of any Chelsea player.

    Tammy Abraham and midfielder Mason Mount are next on the list with a combined seven goals and assists each, while Jorginho and Ben Chilwell have six apiece.

    Club legend Didier Drogba scored just 10 league goals in his first season at Stamford Bridge, meanwhile, which Werner puts down to players needing time to settle in a new competition.

    "A lot of good strikers come to the Premier League and take one year to settle down and adapt," he said.

    "I think my form is going up and getting better and better. Maybe this year is not the year of goalscoring for Timo but at the end I will reflect on the season.

    "I have learned a lot. I know exactly the teams we play against, how they play."

    Werner's adaption period has come at a time which has seen Chelsea change their head coach, with Thomas Tuchel replacing Frank Lampard in January.

    Werner thinks the arrival of his compatriot in the dugout could help with his development over time.

    "I can talk to him very easily," he said. "When he screams on the pitch, no problem for me. I need types of managers who scream at me. It gives me more power."

  • Rumour Has It: Man City want Dortmund's Haaland as Real Madrid step up chase Rumour Has It: Man City want Dortmund's Haaland as Real Madrid step up chase

    Erling Haaland continues to dominate headlines.

    The Borussia Dortmund sensation is one of the most sought-after players in Europe.

    Manchester City and Real Madrid are reportedly going head-to-head to sign the Norwegian.

     

    TOP STORY – AGUERO OUT, HAALAND IN?

    Manchester City want to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland as a replacement for veteran forward Sergio Aguero, according to Bild.

    Aguero, who has been hampered by injury this season, is out of contract at the end of the current campaign.

    Haaland is a player in demand, having been linked to Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich.

    But Haaland dominates the front pages of Thursday's Marca, Diario AS and Mundo Deportivo in Spain amid Madrid's interest.

    The Norway international reportedly wants to listen to Madrid, who will need €150million to prise Haaland to the Santiago Bernabeu.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - Calciomercato reports Lyon star Houssem Aouar remains on the radar of Juventus. Aouar has previously been linked with the Serie A champions, as well as Arsenal.

    Chelsea are interested in Monaco's defensive midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, claims ESPN.

    - O Jogo says Liverpool could reignite their interest in Sporting CP defender Nuno Mendes. Juve, Madrid and Milan have also been tracking the 18-year-old, who has a £60m (€70m) release clause.

    Edinson Cavani is open to extending his United contract, according to Fabrizio Romano. Cavani joined United as a free agent on a one-year deal at the start of the season. The former PSG star has been linked with Boca Juniors.

  • Liverpool v Chelsea: Klopp and Tuchel take familiar paths to Premier League showdown Liverpool v Chelsea: Klopp and Tuchel take familiar paths to Premier League showdown

    "Of course we have a certain history…but we don't know each other as well as everybody thinks."

    So said Thomas Tuchel during a glowing assessment of his German compatriot Jurgen Klopp, not long after replacing club legend Frank Lampard in the Chelsea dugout in January.

    You could be forgiven, though, for thinking there is a much stronger bond between two men from the same country, whose paths from young heavy-metal upstarts to coaching heavyweights have taken eerily similar paths.

    There are striking facets in each man's style of play too. The high intensity pressing, the devastating speed of the counter-attack, the fluidity of the forwards.

    Now, whether you are a believer in fate or coincidence, the two are set to battle in the Premier League for the first time on Thursday when Chelsea – unbeaten so far under Tuchel – visit Anfield to take on Klopp's Liverpool.

    With that in mind, let's take a trip down memory lane.

    BECOMING THE MAINZ MAN

    "I had fourth-division feet and a first-division head".

    Even as a player, Klopp always believed his talents were better suited to the touchline than inside the white lines and it was at second-tier Mainz – where he made over 300 league appearances as a player – where he would get the chance to cut his coaching teeth.

    Appointed in February 2001, Klopp helped stave off the threat of relegation and then led the team to consecutive fourth-place finishes, narrowly missing out on promotion.

    But the old adage proved true, as the third time proved a charm for Klopp as Mainz were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history.

    Klopp had the smallest budget and the smallest stadium in the top flight, but in his first two campaigns among the elite, employing his now famed Gegenpress, he led Mainz to back-to-back 11th-place finishes and a first foray into European football – qualifying for the UEFA Cup thanks to the Fair Play draw.

    Relegation followed in the next campaign, and in total Klopp enjoyed 29 wins from 102 Bundesliga games as Mainz boss, a win percentage of 28.43 in Germany's top flight – his side scoring 130 goals and conceding 159.

    He had a points-per-game average of 1.13 with Mainz in the Bundesliga but, after failing to secure a return to the top tier the following campaign, Klopp departed for pastures new. More on that later.

    So, what next for Mainz? Well, the original route was the appointment of Jorn Andersen, who successfully achieved promotion but was sacked before the 2009-10 top-flight campaign even started, with Mainz stating the aims of the club and the coach were no longer the same.

    Enter Tuchel…

    A knee injury curtailed Tuchel's playing career at the age of 25 and he worked in the youth team at Stuttgart before overseeing the second team at Augsburg – a club he previously played for.

    It was here where Tuchel impressed Bundesliga teams, coaching a side including Julian Nagelsmann, and Mainz came calling after dismissing Andersen.

    Despite limited funds and a supposedly inferior playing squad, a team including Andre Schurrle and Adam Szalai helped Mainz to a ninth-placed finish.

    Better things were to come the following season. The likes of Lewis Holtby and future Premier League winner Christian Fuchs arrived and Tuchel led Mainz to their highest ever finish of fifth.

    The difficulties of mixing domestic and European football were a struggle and the next two campaigns saw Mainz finish 13th before coming an impressive seventh in 2013-14, Tuchel's last season in charge.

    By the end of his tenure, Tuchel had a win percentage of 38.24 in the Bundesliga – significantly higher than Klopp's and the best of any Mainz coach.

    Under Tuchel, Mainz won 65 Bundesliga games, scored 229 goals, conceded 230 and finished with a points-per-game ratio of 1.41. After a year out of the game, another opportunity was to arise…

    DELIGHTING IN DORTMUND

    When Klopp arrived at Borussia Dortmund in 2008, both parties could hardly have dreamed they would be a better match.

    Earlier in the decade, Dortmund were a club on the brink of financial ruin after years of heavy spending.

    It meant Klopp's remit was to work within a limited budget and develop youth talent. And boy did he succeed in his task – putting together a team that would mix it with the best of European football.

    The early signs were promising as Dortmund finished sixth and fifth in Klopp's first two campaigns, an improvement on 13th in the season prior to him taking over.

    But it was 2010-11 when things really clicked. A star-studded cast led by Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels and Shinji Kagawa pressed, hassled and swashbuckled their way to Bundesliga glory.

    Dortmund would repeat the trick a year later with their 81 points at the time a Bundesliga record, while they made it a domestic double in the process by adding the DFB-Pokal.

    Bayern Munich regained top spot in the Bundesliga in the following season (and have not looked back since) but Klopp's reputation continued to grow as Dortmund reached the Champions League final – only to be denied as Arjen Robben's 89th-minute winner earned Bayern a famous treble.

    Dortmund were runners-up in the league and cup in 2013-14, and a disappointing start to the next term that saw Dortmund initially in relegation trouble would mark the beginning of the end of a glorious chapter.

    Still, a recovery to seventh in the table and a run to the Pokal final meant Klopp left with his head held high. In total, Dortmund won 133 of their 238 Bundesliga matches under Klopp – ending with a win percentage of 55.88 and an average of 1.91 points per game, with 469 goals scored and 248 conceded.

    But life at Signal Iduna Park had to go on and, you guessed it… enter Tuchel.

    It was a natural fit in many ways, with Dortmund keen to find someone who would fit a similar mould to Klopp when he first joined. Young, vibrant, a desire to press and attack at pace.

    There was much to admire in Tuchel's first campaign, but Bayern's winning machine continued as they finished 10 points clear of their rivals.

    Dortmund spent big to replenish a squad depleted by the departures of Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan ahead of the 2016-17 season, but they accumulated 14 fewer points to finish third in the league – a triumph in the Pokal proving Tuchel's only trophy at the club.

    While there was plenty to admire on the pitch, off it Tuchel's reign was mired by disagreements with Dortmund's hierarchy – most notably CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke.

    Tuchel left with a win percentage in the Bundesliga of 61.76 (beaten only by Lucien Favre's 63.29 among Dortmund coaches with at least 10 games in charge), accruing an impressive 2.09 points per game.

    HEAD-TO-HEAD AND 'THAT' GAME AT ANFIELD

    Similar paths, similarities in styles, contrasting fortunes then.

    But Thursday's clash at Anfield is by no means the first time these two have gone head to head.

    Indeed, there were 10 occasions when the two were in opposition dugouts in the Bundesliga – with Klopp winning seven of those and Tuchel only one.

    When extending that to all competitions, Klopp has triumphed nine times from 14 games, while Tuchel bumps up only slightly to two victories.

    Their most famous showdown, of course, came in the 2015-16 Europa League quarter-finals, where Klopp was handed a romantic return to the club he once considered his home.

    A 1-1 draw in Dortmund preceded one of the greatest second-leg contests in the competition's history.

    Goals from Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had Dortmund 2-0 up inside 10 minutes to stun Anfield and, although Divock Origi's goal just after the break reduced the arrears, Marco Reus' effort before the hour had seemingly sewn things up.

    Cue pandemonium. Philippe Coutinho and Mamadou Sakho were on target to level things on the night and Dejan Lovren's injury-time header completed the most memorable and emotional of comebacks, Liverpool celebrating a 4-3 victory.

    Since that night, Klopp has become a Premier League and Champions League winner with the Reds, while Tuchel's arrival at Stamford Bridge was preceded by a couple of Ligue 1 title triumphs with Paris Saint-Germain and a 1-0 loss to Bayern in last season's showpiece game in Europe's premier competition.

    Klopp and Tuchel also had a win apiece when Liverpool and PSG met in the 2018-19 Champions League group stages.

    Now their familiar paths have led to the Premier League for the latest showdown between two of the greatest coaching minds in football.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.