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NIVEA MEN Football Insight: Real Madrid vs Shakhtar Donetsk


Los Blancos need a big performance when they return to continental action in midweek

Rarely have Real Madrid been more in need of the strong character and determination that has underpinned some of their greatest successes when they travel to Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday evening.

Los Blancos were on the receiving end of one of the worst results in their recent history on Saturday when they were defeated at home by minnows Deportivo Alaves.

The reigning Spanish champions have been exposed in recent fixtures as they were defeated emphatically by Valencia in early November, before being held 1-1 by Villarreal in La Liga action a week ago.

However, neither of those performances were as troubling as the 2-1 home defeat by Alaves, as Lucas Perez and Joselu scored in each half before Casemiro pulled one back late on for Madrid.

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They lacked confidence and control at the back, while Zinedine Zidane will have been left frustrated by the struggles of his attackers, who failed to find the cohesion and intensity required to break down the resilient Alaves backline.

Madrid have now been defeated in three of their last five home matches—as many as in their previous 31 games—and as if things couldn’t get any worse, they were struck a blow when Eden Hazard was replaced with a thigh injury in the first half.

While it isn’t yet clear how long the Belgium superstar will be sidelined for, and he did work indoors on Sunday, Zidane acknowledged after the match that he was at a loss to explain Los Merengues ’ struggles against Alaves.

“I don’t have an explanation,” Real told journalists after the match. “Tonight we alternated good moments with bad moments.

“When they scored a goal after three minutes, things get very complicated for us,” he added. “The other day in Milan we played a good game and today…It is reality, our reality today.

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“What we have to do is keep working, recover players and change the dynamics,” Zidane concluded. “We don’t have consistency.”

Zidane may well need more from young stars such as Rodrygo—who came off the bench to replace Hazard against Alaves—Vinicius Junior, and Marco Asensio.

Rodrygo impressed against Inter in the UCL—netting twice—and could be a key figure as Real look to improve their fortunes.

Eden Hazard Real Madrid 2020-21

The World Cup winner will be desperate to ensure Los Blancos start strongly away at Shakhtar, having been undone early on against Alaves before struggling to find top gear.

“It’s the worst start of the season,” Zidane acknowledged. “We couldn’t change the dynamics of the game and that bothers and worries me.

“I have to find the solution with the players. I am not going to say it here,” he concluded. “We must not only think about the negative. We also have to see what we did well and try to be more consistent.”

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Even though Real won their only previous match away against Shakhtar—a 4-3 triumph under Rafael Benitez in November 2015—they were defeated 3-2 at home against the same opponent in the first match of their group-stage campaign.

Encouragingly, however, Real have a strong record away in Ukraine, having lost only one of their previous seven games away in the Eastern European country—not losing since 1999.

They’ll also be confident of maintaining the strong form they demonstrated in their recent victory over Internazionale against a Shakhtar side who are without a win in their three previous UCL matches, having taken just one point since they defeated Real.

Three points for Real would be enough to reach the UCL knockouts for a record 24th consecutive season, and they’ll be encouraged by the limitations of a Shakhtar defence that has conceded four goals or more in their last two UCL games.

Even without Hazard, Real should have enough going forward to dispatch the Moles and progress to the Round of 16.

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