MADRID: Real Madrid is seeing some of its tops players get back in shape at a crucial time of the season, and coach Zinedine Zidane will have the squad closer to full strength on Tuesday when it defends its first-leg win over Atalanta in the round of 16 of the Champions League.
Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Eden Hazard who have missed several matches recently because of injuries, including the first game against Atalanta are all expected to be available for the second leg at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium.
Madrid had nearly 10 players sidelined not long ago, but little by little they have been coming back to action to help the club as it enters the final stretch of the season while still in contention in the Champions League and the Spanish league.
Benzema returned two matches ago and Ramos played in a 2-1 win over Elche in the Spanish league on Saturday. Hazard also played a few minutes against Elche, and Marcelo is set to return to the squad on Tuesday after more than a month out injured.
Ramos and Hazard were out for nearly two months. Ramos played from the start at the Di Stefano, while Hazard came off the bench near the end of the match in which Madrid won with two goals by Benzema, who had missed three consecutive games.
There is still some doubt about Hazard for Tuesday’s game as he did not start Monday’s practice session with the rest of the group.
The return of those players gives Zidane greater flexibility tactically, as he has been experimenting with different setups recently and could take advantage of having more options available. He has been favoring a 3-5-2 scheme that he used against Elche and is likely to try it again.
The return of Marcelo may make it easier for him to use that formation as the Brazilian can play well helping the attack. The 3-5-2 scheme backfired for Zidane a few weeks ago when he switched from a 4-3-3 formation halfway through a league match against Real Sociedad, when left back Ferland Mendy struggled and Madrid ended drawing 1-1 at home.
Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini has almost a full squad available, though defender Remo Freuler is suspended following his red card in the first leg. Madrid will be without the suspended Casemiro because of an accumulation of yellow cards.
Atalanta has won all its European matches away from home this season, including a 2-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield. It has won three of its four games in Serie A since the first-leg loss to Madrid.
Atalanta is looking to make it to the Champions League quarter-finals for the second straight season. Madrid hasn’t made it out of the last 16 in the last two seasons.