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La Liga

Real Madrid: Zidane welcomes back Mendy and Valverde for Chelsea

The Real Madrid squad experienced their toughest test of the season on April 18 against Getafe. Zinedine Zidane only had eleven first-team outfield players available. Since then, he has been recovering his squad in dribs and drabs.

Photo of Ferland Mendy

That will happen again this week, when Zizou welcomes back two hugely important players into his squad for the second leg of the Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge on May 5. Fede Valverde is on his way back after overcoming the coronavirus and Ferland Mendy is in the final stages of his recovery.

Photo of Federico Valverde

They have been two fundamental players for Zidane all season – the French full-back is the fifth in the squad with the most minutes played, 3,197 – but they are especially important against Chelsea. Both of them lift the physical level of the team, the area where Madrid were weakest in the first leg at the Di Stéfano. With them, the French coach can return to a back four (with Mendy in for Marcelo) and reinforce the midfield with Valverde, an area of the pitch in which the Londoners clearly outplayed Madrid, especially in the first half of the sides 1-1 draw.

Defensive options for Stamford Bridge

The double return opens up some unknowns in the Madrid system. The first is in defence. Zidane plans to go back to a back four and the question now is whether Nacho will play instead of Carvajal at right-back. If the coach opts for the latter, there are three names for two places in the centre of defence: Varane, Nacho and Militao. They should be joined by Sergio Ramos, who may even get minutes this Saturday against Osasuna. However, the captain is returning after two injuries in a row, first a knee operation and then a muscle rupture, and with the level shown in recent matches by the central defenders, it is difficult for Zidane to risk the captain in such a physically demanding match.

Benzema’s strike partner

Attack is the area where Zidane’s headache is not injury issues, but instead to decide between all the players available. If he chooses to reinforce the midfield and play with a 4-4-2, he has to make a decision on who will accompany Benzema in attack. Up to four players are vying for that position: Vinicius, Hazard, Asensio and Rodrygo. Right now that place belongs to Vinicius, but his performance against Chelsea cast doubts and Zidane is considering introducing Hazard if he sees him at 100% over the coming days.

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