He enjoyed his fair share of duels with the greatest rivals during his playing career, but Zinedine Zidane is now preparing for a different kind of a challenge.
Standing on the touchline as Real Madrid manager, the French legend will head into his first El Clasico as a coach on Saturday eager to prove a point against the in-form Catalans who are shoe-in for another La Liga title with ten points of advantage in front of their arch rivals.
El Clasico hoodoo
Zinedine Zidane is entering his first ever clash against Barcelona with a huge load upon his back.
With his team almost effectively out of the title race, the French tactician is by no means expected to throw in the white towel, but will nevertheless have a mountain to climb at Camp Nou on Saturday.
Underachieving Los Blancos will hope to put in their best performance and help their manager beat the tradition and become the first one to win his opening El Clasico since 2007. No Real Madrid coach has since that year won their first ever meeting with Barcelona.
Bernd Schuster did it on 23 December 2007 and it has now been nine years and five different managers who failed to repeat the feat.
Juande Ramos, Manuel Pellegrini, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benitez stumbled, some of them badly, and it is now Zinedine Zidane’s turn to use his motivation to end the curse.
The French manager will not back down under challenge and he will be delighted to know that all of his first-choices are ready and brimming with confidence following the international break.
Mourinho the role model
A win at Camp Nou would not make a big difference in the title race, but it would have a huge value for Los Blancos, who aim to finish the season on a high.
There is no measuring of the morale that would be gained from an away win over the eternal rivals, a win that would be priceless for Los Blancos in their quest to win the Champions League trophy this year and thus make amends for a generally disappointing season.
Zinedine Zidane will look at one of Real Madrid’s former managers to find the key of unlocking a win at Barca.
The Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho was the last one to record a win at Barca’s home ground and ZIdane is now hoping to take the torch in his own hands. Los Blancos won at Barcelona in 2012-13 season in the Copa del Rey semi-finals with a 3-1 triumph which followed a 1-1 draw at Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg.
In addition to Cup success, Mourinho was also the last one to pick up the three La Liga points at Camp Nou when he beat Guardiola’s men 2-1 in the 2011-12 season.
Real Madrid have won only one more game since that time and it was the 3-1 La Liga victory in 2013-14 season before a double blow and back-to-back defeat to the eternal rivals during last season.
Big lead a curse of its own
Zinedine Zidane will have an unlikely ally in his efforts to beat the odds and record a win at the enemy’s grounds.
Despite the fact they have been made favourites at 8/13 to defeat Real Madrid on Saturday, Barcelona will have their own portion of tradition turned against them.
The Catalans struggle against Real Madrid when they have more than a nine-point lead in front of their bitter rivals, that’s what history teaches us at least.
It’s a trend that keeps repeating since 1990-91 season when Real Madrid won El Clasico with Barcelona entering the match with a 13-point cushion. A 1-1 draw was recorded in 2005-06 season with Barcelona 11 points clear off Los Blancos.
The most recent example came in 2012-13 when Barcelona travelled to Santiago Bernabeu with the biggest league advantage so far – 14 points.
Benzema and Ramos struck to ensure Real Madrid extended the trend with a 2-1 triumph.
Will Zinedine Zidane be able to continue this trend and also end the “first-ever” curse?