Zinedine Zidane believes tangling with bitter rivals Barcelona will help to sharpen up Real Madrid for the Champions League final – even though this season’s LaLiga argument has been settled.
Freshly minted champions Barca return to Camp Nou for the first time since their title-clinching win at Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday to host Madrid, who they have comprehensively bested domestically this term.
Zidane’s side will soon fix their gaze upon the Champions League final against Liverpool in Kiev and the chance to retain the European crown for a third consecutive year.
Those factors have led to an unusually subdued build-up to the Clasico this week but Zidane has little doubt the white-hot intensity will return as soon as the action gets under way in Catalonia – something he feels will benefit his players later this month.
“You’ve got to go out and play an intense game. That’s how we’re going to try and prepare for the final,” he told a pre-match news conference.
“We have to be intense, that’s the first thing.
“With the title already decided there is a bit less tension and expectation around the game. That’s normal.
“Before the game it will be like that but when the game starts I think you will see it’s like any other.”
— Real Madrid C.F.(@realmadriden) May 5, 2018
Madrid rode their luck to pip Bayern Munich to a place in the Champions League final and were indebted to a Karim Benzema brace in Tuesday’s 2-2 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu – a result preserved in part due to some goalkeeping heroics from Keylor Navas.
Zidane has regularly found himself defending the much-maligned duo this season, so there was a sense of vindication when he discussed their midweek contributions.
“I think they’ve got great personalities the two of them,” he said. “They don’t let the criticism bother them and, secondly, for me they are great players who make a difference.
“They do it in big games. And in the semi-final they did it really well.
“Perhaps they have had some difficult moments before but like all players in the season you have ups and downs.
“It shows that in key moments, although they’ve been criticised at times, you can still count on them.”
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