Tuesday, March 19, 2019 | ePaper

Key decisions for Zidane as Madrid rebuild begins

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AFP, Madrid :
Zinedine Zidane has promised change at Real Madrid this summer and the last 11 games of the season will give an indication as to who will be part of his new era.
Zidane's first match since being reappointed as coach comes against Celta Vigo on Saturday, with Madrid lying in no-man's land in La Liga, 12 points behind Barcelona in first and 10 ahead of Alaves in fifth.
Atletico are away to Athletic Bilbao while Barcelona travel to Real Betis on Sunday.
But several Madrid players are playing for their futures before the campaign ends and Zidane's selection will offer early clues as to his thinking about his squad.
Here, AFP Sport looks at five areas of contention ahead of the game at the Santiago Bernabeu this weekend:
Gareth Bale was the player many hoped would step up after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus but injuries have again disrupted his rhythm and, when fit, he has only delivered in flashes.
Zidane lost patience with Bale last year, believing the Welshman to be a liability defensively and unreliable with his fitness. The pair were barely speaking at times and while Zidane's departure opened the door for Bale to stay, his return may now prompt his exit.
Keylor Navas was a favourite of Zidane, who repeatedly persuaded the club against signing a new goalkeeper, such was his faith in the Costa Rican.
After Zidane left, Madrid bought Thibaut Courtois and while Julen Lopetegui used both players, Santiago Solari put his faith in Courtois and left Navas out in the cold.
Restoring Navas would be a bold move, particularly given Courtois cost the club around 40 million euros last summer. But the Belgian's form has not been particularly convincing and Navas remains a popular figure in the dressing room.
Solari promoted a handful of youngsters during his tenure and while Vinicius Junior was the most spectacular to emerge, Sergio Reguilon has been excellent at left-back too.
The 22-year-old is adept both going forward and defensively while his crossing has proven a significant attacking weapon.
Marcelo was dropped by Solari, considered out of form and out of shape, but was a regular under Zidane, who values the Brazilian's character and experience, as well as his ability.
Isco's situation could hardly get any worse. He failed to start a single La Liga game under Solari and was surely destined for an exit in the summer if the Argentinian had stayed in charge.
But Zidane's return offers new hope for the midfielder, whose time under the Frenchman was far from plain-sailing but finished on a high.
Isco pointedly said at one stage last season he preferred playing for Spain than Madrid under Zidane, only to then regain his place and start both legs in the semi-final and the final in the Champions League. He will be hoping to continue where he left off.
In the end, results left Solari with nowhere to turn but few could argue against his courage in giving youth a chance.
The 24-year-old Marcos Llorente impressed greatly in midfield and it remains to be seen whether his progress now continues under Zidane. Casemiro and Toni Kroos have both endured disappointing seasons alongside Luka Modric, who continues to be linked with a move to Italy.
Zidane may be tempted to spend big in the summer but might do well to look closer to home as well. Llorente looks ready to step up.

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