Zinedine Zidane breeds Real fighters
Ten years ago, a pretentious documentary was made about Zinedine Zidane.
For 90 minutes, 17 synchronised cameras followed his every move, turn, pass and shot to showcase his balletic grace.
Naturally, Zidane ruined the ending by getting himself sent off for fighting.
In that respect, the documentary captured the essence of the modern game's most enigmatic footballer, the reason he's proving such a success as a manager now.
When Real Madrid host Borussia Dortmund tomorrow morning (Singapore time), they will run out very much in the mould of their inscrutable coach.
La Liga's current leaders are hard to pin down. They can be both sublime and scrappy in the same game, a walking, running contradiction of artistry and aggression.
That's Real Madrid. That's Zidane.
- Tottenham v CSKA Moscow
- Leverkusen v Monaco
- Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund
- Legia Warsaw v Sporting Lisbon
- FC Porto v Leicester City
- Club Brugge v FC Copenhagen
- Juventus v Dinamo Zagreb
- Lyon v Sevilla
*All games at 3.45am
The Frenchman defied pigeonholing for decades and his finessed battlers are doing the same now.
Zidane was supposed to fail. Conventional wisdom dictated that a soft-spoken coaching novice was not the man to handle a constellation of fragile superstars.
Clearly, not enough critics had watched that documentary, or recalled that infamous World Cup final headbutt. A life forged in adversity shaped a career without compromise.
Zidane has always gone his own way.
And as he prepares to celebrate his one-year anniversary in charge at the Bernabeu, he deserves every accolade for taking Real Madrid within one game of a club-record 34 unbeaten matches.
The old adage about being only as good as your last game particularly applies in this instance, when the last game was in Barcelona.
In the past, a niggling contest at the Nou Camp was invariably the kind of fixture that Real's effete artists generally lost. But Zidane's Madridistas are made of sterner stuff.The El Clasico draw was light on the aesthetics, but heavy on the industry.
Considering Zidane was perhaps the most celebrated Galactico of them all, it's ironic that the Frenchman has little time for the concept.
The post-Clasico photograph on Real's social media outlets was a telling one. It was a group shot. Cristiano Ronaldo's face was almost lost in the crowd.
Zidane bows at the altar of celebrity about as much as he kowtows to the number crunchers in the boardroom.
As Real coaches go, this is uncharted territory.
Carlo Ancelotti stuck with the tried-and-tested. Jose Mourinho rarely tinkered with his best 11, relying on the formula that served him well at Chelsea and Inter Milan. And Rafa Benitez's line-ups required approval from club president Florentino Perez.
In fact, Perez recently admitted that Zidane's initial success could be attributed to his iconic stature in the city. He enjoys an authority that Benitez could never have.
Zidane doesn't pander to the personalities in the dressing room or the suits upstairs.
So a potential Galactico like James Rodriguez was dismissed as a luxury item and shunned in favour of less glamorous but more reliable names such as Mateo Kovacic in central midfield and Lucas Vazquez on the right.
Casemiro - another industrious midfielder - also gets regular starts under Zidane.
Even the famous "BBC" are not quite cast in stone. Zidane acknowledges that the front three - when fit - are the best forwards at the club, but the Frenchman demands more from the erratic Karim Benzema.
What Zidane really craves are fighters; unapologetically irritating automatons that pester opponents until they pinch a point in the Clasico.
Real should still conjure familiar flashes of artistry against Dortmund.
But the silk now comes with steel. The two are interchangeable. Zidane believes a complete performance requires both.
It's a sacrosanct aspect of his coaching philosophy, one learned from a Real Madrid master he relied upon throughout his playing career.
Porto, Sevilla hunt final knockout berths
While Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund grapple for top spot in Group F, twice former winners Porto and Sevilla look to clinch the two remaining spots in the Champions League last 16 tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Portuguese giants Porto, European champions in 1987 and 2004, host Leicester City in their final Group G match, wary of FC Copenhagen pipping them to second spot.
Despite a woeful defence of their Premier League crown, Leicester are guaranteed to finish top of Group G and avoid the likes of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the next round.
Porto will secure their last-16 spot with victory over Leicester, but anything less will open the door for Copenhagen, who have a head-to-head advantage over the Portuguese on away goals.
Copenhagen, third in the group, trail Porto by two points ahead of a trip to pointless Club Brugge.
In Group H, Europa League champions Sevilla are favourites to advance alongside Juventus, with Lyon needing to beat the Spanish side by at least two goals at Parc OL.
The French outfit will draw encouragement knowing Sevilla - without coach Jorge Sampaoli due to a touchline ban - have lost on all three previous trips to France.
Sevilla's troubles away from home resurfaced in a 2-1 defeat by Granada last Saturday, but they may welcome back Samir Nasri from injury.
Juventus, a point clear at the top, are expected to cement first place with group makeweights Dinamo Zagreb rounding out their fruitless campaign in Turin.
In Group F, Dortmund, who will be without Mario Goetze, need only a draw against Real Madrid to go through as group winners.
Bayer Leverkusen, confirmed as runners-up of Group E, host Leonardo Jardim's table-toppers Monaco, while Tottenham Hotspur must avoid defeat to CSKA Moscow at Wembley to play in the Europa League. - AFP