WEDNESDAY’S BIG STORIES

Real Madrid excel again

Real Madrid are in the midst of a mini injury crisis, have an aging squad in need of a refresh and made zero summer signings.
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Yet, they go into Saturday's Clasico on the back of a comfortable 3-1 Champions League win against Liverpool and just three points off Atleti at the top of the table as they look to defend their Liga crown.
That sort of record speaks of an excellent manager. Yet, questions remain regarding Zinedine Zidane's acumen. The fickle nature of Real Madrid probably contributes to this cloudy judgement of his value - for it is only a few months since the Frenchman's future at the club was in doubt.
Back in December, it looked likely that Madrid wouldn't even make it through to the last 16 with the capital side third going into the last gameweek, needing a win against Borussia Monchengladbach to qualify from a group that also included Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan. Yet, here they are, staring down a spot in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
And, against Liverpool, without his first-choice defensive pairing of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, and Lucas Vazquez stationed at right-back, Zidane restricted the Reds to just one shot on target and that was Mohamed Salah's goal. Simultaneously, they tore Liverpool apart with a combination of possession-based and incredibly basic and direct football.
The performance evidenced the fact that Zidane is not wedded to a prescribed philosophy, and perhaps that is where his greatness resides. The man himself puts it down to the hunger of the players:
This is the good thing about this team - they always want more and more. These are players with a lot of experience, players who have won a lot, but they still want to win more. And this shows you the spirit that these players have.
It seems a simple take on the sport. In fact, perhaps his ability to simplify the game is why he is so successful, but - as it is difficult to pinpoint/quantify what makes him a great coach - not lauded. It is inexplicable. But, make no mistake, there is genius in his management.

'In my heart' - Zidane hints at shock summer move - Euro Papers

One man had a bad night...

This here is a goal:
The referee elected not to give this goal as a goal - and, what was worse, he decided to blow his whistle before Jude Bellingham scored, meaning VAR couldn't steam in and save his blushes.
It was a perplexing decision, as evidenced by this tweet from the German club Borussia Dortmund who were on the end of this travesty.
Jadon Sancho made a fair point, too.
Anyway, City nearly went full City in the Champions League contriving to exit another first-leg knockout match disappointed with Marco Reus cancelling out Kevin De Bruyne's early goal. Phil Foden would step up to spare City's angst with a late winner.
If there is one mark against Guardiola it is his propensity to over think the Champions League. However...

'Just win the game' - Guardiola reveals City gameplan

Bielsa a big fan of Guardiola

Marcelo Bielsa is a football revolutionary. He changed the game. One of his disciples is Pep Guardiola.
Bielsa, Guardiola will be pleased to know, is a fan, as evidenced in the below quotes.
“He’s a magical man,” Bielsa said.
What he knows how to do is extremely difficult for me to try and I’ve already given up, but I have genuine admiration for what he does. Interpreting the novel decisions that he incorporates into a game is already a way of falling in love with football.
It would be interesting to get Bielsa's view on Jude Bellingham who was excellent in Dortmund's loss.

Assistant referee a big fan of Erling Haaland

Roy Keane will be absolutely fuming about this.
To be fair, this is not a good look. A bad night for the officials at the Etihad.

HAT-TIP

As stated above, Bellingham was excellent at the Etihad. His rise has been meteoric but not unexpected. Here is The Athletic's Sarah Shephard charting said rise:
His drive and focus was excellent. When we were in the hotel, he was spot on with his food choices. When we had down time, he was resting or working on injury prevention plans — he was working constantly, chasing a dream. His first dream was to play for his hometown club and 24 hours a day, he was chasing that.

COMING UP

More football. Yay. Two Champions League quarter-finals: Bayern Munich versus PSG and Porto against Chelsea.
Andi Thomas, a well-defined genius, will be here tomorrow.
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