Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is “obsessed” with how to stop Lionel Messi, claims Barcelona-based Diario SPORT. It’s the “age old dilemma,” and a huge “headache” for Zidane, Madrid’s Diario AS reports.
Yes, all eyes are on the six-time Ballon d’Or winner as el clásico looms right around the corner. And especially the eyes of Madrid’s manager, Zidane.
“Zidane doesn’t want any more Messi surprises,” SPORT reckons. “Therefore, he’s looking at what he can do to slow him down. Man marking? That could be a job for Fede Valverde, who’s been one of Los Blancos’ best players this season.”
The problem is man-marking Messi has been a strategy that has backfired on Madrid in the past. Notably, when Mateo Kovačić was given that job and Zidane’s Madrid lost to Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona 3-0 a few years back. Ivan Rakitić slalomed through midfield entirely undisturbed as his Croatian compatriot abandoned the zone to track Messi tightly, right before Barcelona opened the scoring thanks in no small part to the gigantic opening in the middle of the park.
AS says the most obvious solution is to deploy Valverde and Casemiro as part of a double pivot in a 4-4-2 system designed to clog Messi’s space. The drawback is obvious, though, as you’d go from playing with a single holding midfielder to two, sacrificing some attacking thrust in the process.
Another possibility is to play with a higher line. Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane could play closer to the midfield, again to try to squeeze Messi and compress his zone. That does present a risk, of course, if he can evade the higher line with a pass or dribble.
AS then says the third possibility is man-marking but notes the problems Zidane has had himself with trying to mark Messi out of the game.
In the past, Real Madrid coaches have deployed a centerback as a sort of sweeper, in front of the back four. José Mourinho did this with Pepe and Carlo Ancelotti did that too with Sergio Ramos. Neither plan was a rousing success.
Messi is once again tipped to be the game changer in the biggest game in the world, but for Real Madrid it might just be how to limit the damage he causes. Los Blancos will be looking at their players hoping they can collectively outmaneuver Barcleona, even if they cannot stop the biggest star.