Real Madrid’s underwhelming B Team must show their worth in midweek trip to Sevilla
Necessity is the mother of all invention, but sometimes it pays to give your old man a call instead. That is precisely what Sevilla did when the wheels came off Vincenzo Montella’s tenure, which started with a derby defeat against Real Betis, briefly flirted with the exceptional in Munich and then headed inexorably towards disaster via Copa del Rey humiliation at the hands of Barcelona: the losing finalists no longer gain entry to the Europa League directly. That spot goes to the seventh-placed side in La Liga.
A 2-1 defeat at Levante was enough for Sevilla to pull the trigger, but unlike The Frogs, the Sanchez Pizjuan board did not simply promote their reserve team coach for the final four games of the season. Instead, Joaquin Caparros returned to what was his kingdom between 2000 and 2005, during which time he dragged Sevilla from Segunda into Europe. Under Caparros, players such as Jose Antonio Reyes, Jesus Navas and Sergio Ramos rose from the academy into the first team and that is where the Seville-born boss is headed after his brief return to the first-team dugout: back to the roots.
In the meantime, Caparros has one task to fulfil: get Sevilla into Europe next season. Getafe currently occupy seventh, a point ahead of Caparros’ side. Motivation will not be lacking among his players on Wednesday against Real Madrid after the 62-year-old guided Sevilla to a 1-0 win in his first game in charge. Caparros, meanwhile, will take great pleasure in beating the European champions.
Zinedine Zidane has the opposite problem: His side have little to play for in the Sanchez Pizjuan, and the Frenchman’s priority is avoiding any more injuries. Zidane was obliged to put out a strong XI in the Clasico and subsequently lost Cristiano Ronaldo for the Sevilla game and next weekend’s home fixture against Celta Vigo, although the Portuguese will be fit for the Champions League final. Dani Carvajal remains unavailable and Gareth Bale will be handed the evening off after the birth of his third child on Tuesday.
Fortune has aimed a crooked smile at Zidane elsewhere, which will also condition his approach to the remaining Liga games blocking his path to the Champions League final in Kiev: Karim Benzema has hit something approaching his best in recent games and Keylor Navas is in a state of grace. Lucas Vazquez has cemented his place as Zidane’s most trusted lieutenant and the versatile Nacho is back from injury. How many of those players can he do without against Liverpool? Given Raphael Varane’s fragility and the lack of any cover beyond Jesus Vallejo, certainly not his backup across the defensive line and his recent emergency right-back.
Sergio Ramos was instrumental in Real’s 2-2 draw in Camp Nou, but his history with the Sevilla ultras will be a cause of concern for Zidane. It has been more than a decade since Ramos was sent off against his former club, but after his set-to with the “Biris” last season, there will be a warm reception for the Real captain if he is included.
Two Castilla players, left-back Luismi Quezada and central defender Alvaro Tejero, took part in Tuesday’s session, suggesting Zidane is considering alternatives. What is certain is that Wednesday will be a job for the B Team. Getafe, among others, will be within their rights to cry foul if Zidane rests too many regular starters, but the simple equation is that he needs as many fit senior players as possible standing in Kiev.
The Frenchman has espoused the importance of the whole squad throughout the season — far more regularly than he has actually used it — but it seems likely that Vallejo, Dani Ceballos, Achraf Hakimi, Marcos Llorente, Theo Hernandez and Borja Mayoral will all be given a run-out at some stage in Seville. Isco could also come into the midfield after recovering from a shoulder sprain sustained against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena.
Victory in the Sanchez Pizjuan will pull Real level with Atletico on points and into second on goal difference — a minor victory and one that Zidane must ensure is not Pyrrhic.
“Caparros often puts out a team that puts the pressure on and plays with high intensity. I saw the game against Real Sociedad and they took them to the limit,” Zidane said in his pre-match news conference. “Tomorrow the players that fit the bill will feature.”
Sevilla striker Sandro explained his new coach’s impact more succinctly: “Caparros has given us our balls back.” It is safe to assume he was not talking about the training ground variety.
On Wednesday, it will be up to Zidane’s B Team to show that they have acquired some after hardly covering themselves in glory this season. For most of the summer recruits, there are only three games remaining to persuade their coach they are worth giving another shot next season.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.