'Madrid in freefall.. and on Saturday it's Barca' - Zinedine Zidane hoping to reverse Real's fortunes in clasico

Spanish giants meet in an empty Camp Nou on Saturday

Real Madrid's French coach Zinedine Zidane reacts during the UEFA Champions League group B football match between Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas on the outskirts of Madrid on October 21, 2020. / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS
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"Every day is worse," read the front page of Thursday's Marca with a picture of Real Madrid's Thibaut Courtois picking a ball out of the net in a 2-3 Champions League defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk.

“Madrid in freefall... and on Saturday it’s Barca.”

“I am responsible,” admitted coach Zinedine Zidane. “And I see myself as capable of fixing it.”

The defeat was Madrid's second at home in four days, the first against newly promoted Cadiz.

With the clasico in mind, Zidane kept some players back, like Karim Benzema. But he had to bring them on when the Ukranians led 3-0 at half time. It was too late and Madrid’s uncharacteristically poor home form in Europe continues.

Next up are Barcelona, who have had problems of their own, in an empty Camp Nou.

It's the first clasico of the Covid era. The Catalans' last ultimate away game in front of fans came in March, and that 2-0 defeat swung the title race back in Madrid's favour and Zidane's team didn't lose momentum as Barca were prevented from winning a ninth La Liga title in 12 years.

Saturday's meeting at Camp Nou follows a weekend when both lost in the same game week for first time in 17 years. The season is young and it's odd to see Madrid in third and Barcelona ninth. However, Barca have games in hand and have also played well apart from that Getafe defeat, when the victors had only 27 per cent of possession.

Barca did win easily at home in the Champions League on Tuesday by putting five past Hungarians Ferencvaros, with further excitement from their young players Pedri and Ansu Fati, both 17. The former is too young to drive and took a taxi home after the game.

Lionel Messi is playing well and while there are still serious disruptions around him on the field which will see a change of club president, results will set the mood.

The front page of Spanish newspaper Marca
The front page of Spanish newspaper Marca

The clasico – the term has been used since the 1940s – is usually a game which delivers and justifies the billing, but last season’s encounters were limp in comparison to the spectacular encounters of previous years.

"It's the best match with the best football in the world and I'm not just saying that because these are Spanish teams," former Real Madrid player Fernando Sanz told The National.

“I can remember the games in the 80s and being on the stadium to see Butrageuno, a true hero of Spanish football, or the Bernabeu applauding Ronaldinho despite him playing for Barcelona.

“Now I see two teams with lots of young players: Francisco Trincau (20), a wonderful and powerful attacker, Sergino Dest (19) who recently debuted on the left but usually plays on the right. He reminded me at Daniel Alves. Ronald Koeman, the new Barca coach, was asked to completely change the team and he’s achieving that. He’s bringing in young, top quality attack-minded players. Ansu Fati (17) is another.”


The last 10 clasicos


Like their great rivals, Madrid were a selling club in the close season as they sort to cut their wage bill. They too have youngsters.

“It’s impressive to see players like Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Odegaard,” added Sanz. “They’re 19, 20, 21. Incredible to see these young players for both teams and they’re the future. People say that Messi or Sergio Ramos are getting old, but we see these incredible young players. Both Barcelona and Real Madrid have got to plan the next cycle."

This is true, but while Messi stayed in Spain, there has been a drift of both established and emerging talents towards England. La Liga are working hard to promote their league as the best in the world, but it has also been criticised for its two-team dominance. Sanz thinks this is changing.

“The league is stronger overall and that’s why you see results like Cadiz and Getafe beating Madrid and Barcelona,” he said. “They are not going to have the peaceful tranquil year that they thought they might have.”

That much became apparent this week.