Football

Real seek fifth trophy of the year

Zidane's men can complete quintuple if they retain Club World Cup

Real Madrid can round off the most successful year in the club's glorious history by claiming a fifth trophy in 2017 at the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, this week.

They won La Liga, the Champions League, Uefa and Spanish Super Cups in a thrilling fashion after hitting top form from April to August.

Since then, however, the European champions have faded, understandably fatigued by a heavy schedule.

They trail La Liga leaders Barca by eight points and finished second to Tottenham Hotspur in their Champions League group, which proved costly as they were paired with free-spending Paris Saint-Germain in a blockbuster last-16 tie.

However, traces of the Real side that swept aside the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Manchester United and Barcelona in the spring and summer were back as Real hit five past Sevilla before half-time in a 5-0 rout last Saturday.

Until then, Real had lacked the same killer instinct as last season, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema scoring a combined total of just six times in La Liga, while Gareth Bale has made just one brief appearance as a substitute since September.

"We are improving in every sense," said Zidane after thrashing Sevilla.

"If you play well, you will create more chances. We created plenty of chances."

Ronaldo scored twice against Sevilla to celebrate picking up his fifth Ballon d'Or in style and his return to form is timely, as Real face Barcelona in their final game of the year on Dec 23.

"It is a reward just to be here," said Real captain Sergio Ramos.

"We have the opportunity to defend our title. We are preparing with plenty of desire and excitement. After a great game against Sevilla, we are very motivated and our confidence is very high."

Real's return to form coincided with a change of tactics from Zidane, as the pace of Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez on the wings produced an instant impact.

However, if the Spanish duo are to keep their places, the French coach has to bench two of his preferred midfield diamond of Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco.

After missing out at the weekend, Casemiro and Isco are expected to feature when Real take on local side Al Jazira tomorrow morning (Singapore time) in the semi-finals.

Al Jazira had already dealt with Oceania's Auckland City and Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds to reach the last four.

"We don't just play as Jazira now, we play for the UAE," Al Jazira striker Ali Mabkhout told fifa.com.

"We know Real Madrid are one of the best teams in the world and this is incentive for all the players."

Yet, after the scare of falling behind to Kashima Antlers in last year's final before a Ronaldo hat-trick in extra-time sealed the title, Zidane warned against thinking ahead to a potential final with Brazilian giants Gremio on Saturday.

The newly crowned South American champions took on Mexican side Pachuca in the other semi-final this morning.

"Everyone thinks the game on Wednesday will be easy, but it won't," said Zidane.

"We need to do things right to try and win this trophy once again." - AFP

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