By Tim Stannard
Benzema in but Hazard out as Real Madrid squad heads to Kiev in never-ending 2020 soccer challenge
Coach Zizou is now a fully-fledged top, top manager in his own right - a master chef of soccer.
A relatively short career has already produced three Champions League wins and two LaLiga titles with Real Madrid, often with star ingredients like James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale left unused on the shelf.
Yet the Real Madrid manager must now feel akin to a contestant on the mystery basket challenge on 'Chopped' - forced to produce a gourmet meal out of some mangoes, peanut butter and a straw hat, with stern critics ready to pounce.
Jurgen Klopp and a host of other top coaches will sympathize.
In Zidane's eyes, his Real Madrid team has had a laughably short preseason, lost the advantage of the buzz of a packed Santiago Bernabeu, had the transfer budget reduced to peanuts, had players dropping in and out due to COVID-19.
This is on top of the normal wear and tear to players, worsened by a brutal fixture list that has league, Champions League and international games running in an eternal cycle. Yet a double-winning team is the expected result. And no complaining allowed either - "I am the coach and I am to blame," announced Zidane on Saturday.
Just two days after a home defeat to Alaves where Real Madrid suffered quite the battering both on and off the pitch, the challenge has been intensified. Get on a plane, fly across Europe to Ukraine and get a result out of Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. This is to be done without Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos or Dani Carvajal. But at least Karim Benzema is back.
Once that challenge is done, return to Spain and travel to play Sevilla. Then Borussia Moenchengladbach. Oh, and let's throw in a Madrid derby against Atletico Madrid to top it all off.
Coach Zizou will have something to say about this later on from Kiev and so will the Sports Burst live show with Hope Solo at 12PM ET on our beIN SPORTS USA Facebook page and XTRA channel.
Atletico Madrid prepare for Bayern Munich challenge
Diego Simeone might not be happy to hear this but the weekend sees his Atletico Madrid team as full-on LaLiga favorites. Unlike his city rival, the Argentinean is making a gourmet meal fit for a king out of his own 2020-style ingredients.
An admittedly lucky own goal win against Valencia sees Atleti in second place, one point behind Real Sociedad with two games in hand, but with a five point advantage on Real Madrid and nine on Barcelona.
However, the situation is much different in the Champions League where Atletico Madrid return to action on Tuesday. Although the Rojiblancos are in second in their group with two games to play, the points tally is just five making Tuesday's encounter a must-win match. The problem there is that game is against Bayern Munich, a team that is still crashing through opponents.
Manuel Pellegrini faces potentially last game with Betis
LaLiga is not quite done with us yet, as there is a treat in store with a crisis-threatened Real Betis taking on Eibar from 2:50PM ET on beIN SPORTS.
Life was supposed to be promising for Betis, but the Seville side has lost four of its last five games to leave the team teetering on the edge of the relegation zone. That's probably not good news for Manuel Pellegrini at a club that is not averse to firing coaches at short notice. "It's like a final," confirmed the Chilean.
He's back! 👋🧞♂️ pic.twitter.com/jVknmYcvyu— Real Betis Balompié (@RealBetis_en) November 26, 2020
Monday Night Soccer will be back at 9:30PM ET to breakdown Real Madrid's loss and Barcelona's win this weekend as well as announce the weekly winner of The Match prediction game.