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El Clásico 2017: Real Madrid Loses La Liga Will Be Zinedine Zidane’s Fault

After falling to Barcelona, Zidane made an admission that suggests he didn’t understand his team’s situation.

The late goal that James Rodriguez scored for Real Madrid on Sunday nearly put them in control of La Liga.

Given the circumstances, it was an amazing play — Sergio Ramos had been shown a red card, and Madrid didn’t have a central defender on the bench. Down a man and a goal against Barcelona, Los Merengues played with just one defender, Nacho.

Ramos’s sending off — when it was 2-1 to Barcelona — should have killed the game. As good as Real Madrid is, Barca should have been able to keep possession and limit Madrid’s scoring chances for the rest of the match. They did no such thing, allowing Rodriguez to score an equalizer. Barcelona pushed hard for a third goal instead of keeping the ball, and they paid for it.

That shifted the dynamics of the match significantly for Madrid. It should have changed everything for both teams, but in practice, Barca didn’t need to do anything differently. They were already pushing for a goal, after all. Effectively, because of the reckless way they were playing, the only thing that changed for Barcelona was how much they needed the goal they were so desperately gunning for.

Over the final five minutes plus stoppage time, Madrid made the same mistake that Barca had made in the preceding eight minutes. When they should have been sitting back and trying to ensure they didn’t concede, they pushed forward like they were the ones who needed to score the goal. They lost 3-2, with Lionel Messi scoring one of the most memorable goals of his career to capture the three points for his team.

After the match, Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane admitted that Madrid was going all-out for a winner.
Zidane: "We thought we could score a third goal.Equalising, with 10, and then going to press very high, is dangerous, and we paid for that."

— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) April 23, 2017
Here’s the biggest problem with that strategy — Madrid didn’t need the goal. Barcelona needed to win the match, but Madrid didn’t.

Heading into Sunday’s Clásico, Madrid had a three-point lead on Barcelona in La Liga table, plus a game in hand. A draw would have given Madrid some margin for error over their final six games — they could have lost one, drawn one, and still captured the title.

But now Madrid can’t lose. They’re level on points with Barca, who control the head-to-head tiebreaker. If Barca win out, nothing less than five wins and one draw will see Madrid lift the title.

That’s what makes Madrid’s strategy at the end and Zidane’s comments so baffling. Their aggression in stoppage time was so inexplicable that everyone assumed they’d just gotten caught up in the moment and succumbed to the atmosphere of an exciting rivalry game. Instead, it turns out that their aggression was a genuine strategy.

It was a tactic that made no sense. A more careful Real Madrid probably would have captured a draw and taken control of La Liga title race. Instead, they took huge risks in an attempt to humiliate Barcelona and ended up getting torched by Lionel Messi. All because Zidane didn’t understand the game situation.

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