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Champions League

Real Madrid vs Liverpool | Champions League: Varane blow may force Zidane rethink

Zinedine Zidane‘s preparations for Real Madrid‘s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Liverpool on Tuesday night have been rocked with the news that Raphael Varane is out. This could force Zidane into a rethink.

Varane tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday and joins fellow centre-back Sergio Ramos, who has a calf injury, on the absentee list for the visit of Jurgen Klopp‘s side to the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

That means that Zidane is without both of his first-choice centre-backs for two of the biggest games of the season, with a Clasico against Barcelona sandwiched in between the two legs of Real Madrid‘s Champions League tie.

With Liverpool likely to start at least three of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota in attack, a weakened Real Madrid backline is big news and a big problem for Los Blancos.

Zidane has just two fit senior centre-backs left to choose from in Nacho Fernandez and Eder Militao, and remember that first-choice right-back Dani Carvajal is also sidelined.

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For big games, we rarely see the French coach stray from his tried and trusted 4-3-3, but this week his hand could be forced.

A three-man defence?

Last Saturday against Eibar, Los Blancos played a back three of Eder Militao, Nacho and Ferland Mendy, with Varane ironically rested on the bench.

Zidane might, therefore, continue with that system, which he has flirted with before.

With Mendy filling in as an auxiliary left-sided centre-back, this allows Marcelo to retain his place in the team as a left wing-back. His experience could be a key factor in the absence of Ramos and Varane, too.

Lucas Vazquez would likely also retain his place on the opposite flank, and then the question is how Zidane puts together the rest of the team, having used both 3-5-2 and 3-4-2-1 in recent weeks.

For such a big game, and already missing other key players, he at least has some stability in the middle of the park, with Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos all fit, while Vinicius Junior or Marco Asensio could partner Karim Benzema up front.

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It is also possible, of course, that Zidane does go with a back four of Lucas, Nacho, Militao and Mendy, but Marcelo‘s display last weekend makes the decision to use wing backs an easier one, while playing three centre-backs could provide an insurance policy in the absence of Ramos and Varane.

Whichever way he goes, it is sure to be a fascinating encounter against a Liverpool side who have also had their fair share of problems in defence this season.

Real Madrid might find the best way to deal with Liverpool‘s attacking strength is to attack themselves, which points towards an exciting match.

Then, after Salah, Mane and co. have packed up and gone home, Real Madrid‘s new-look defence will have just a few days’ rest before they have to go again against Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele.

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