Zidane debuts as Real Madrid coach halfway through season (Preview)

Madrid, Jan 8 (IANS) New Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane will make his debut in the dugout of the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium here on Saturday when his side entertain Deportivo la Coruna as the La Liga season reaches the midway point.

Zidane replaced Rafael Benitez last week. There will be a better atmosphere in the Bernabeu for Zidane’s debut after the decision to sack Rafael Benitez, although club president Florentino Perez can expect criticism for his recent handling of the club, reports Xinhua.

It will be interesting to see how Zidane lines up his side and if players such as Isco and James Rodriguez find a way into the starting 11 after struggling to get minutes under Benitez.

Deportivo are managed by former Madrid player Victor Sanchez and have enjoyed a good start to the season with striker Lucas Perez in fine form.

FC Barcelona will expect to beat Granada in the Camp Nou stadium, but will have to be wary after dropping points with some recent draws. It also remains to be seen how two fiery derbies against local rivals, Espanyol have affected the Barcelona players, who suffered some heavy tackles both in a King’s Cup match.

The good news for coach Luis Enrique is that he is now able to pick summer signings, Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal and has more options to rotate tired players.

With league leaders Atletico Madrid facing Celta Vigo away on Sunday, Barcelona can go back to the top of the table with a win, while the Atletico game could see recent signing Augusto Fernandez return to face the club which sold him to Atletico just a week ago.

Saturday’s game between Sevilla and Athletic Club Bilbao in the Sanchez Pizjuan not only sees two sides battling for a place in Europe next season, it will also be the first time striker Fernando Llorente faces his former club since leaving them to join Juventus three years ago.

Llorente ran down his contract to leave on a free transfer and is likely to be highly motivated, as are Athletic for what promises to be a tough game.

Saturday also sees Getafe entertain Betis with Betis coach Pepe Mel likely to lose his job should his side slip to defeat against a direct rival to avoid relegation.

Villarreal aim to tighten their grip on the fourth place on Sunday as they take on a Sporting Gijon side that has fallen into the bottom three after a poor run of results, including a 2-1 home defeat to Getafe on Monday night.

Villarreal rested players such as Roberto Soldado in their midweek cup tie and will be at full strength for the game.

Elsewhere Gary Neville is still looking for his first league win as Valencia coach as his side face Real Sociedad, who need points to evade the danger zone, while Eibar will hope their incredible season continues at home to Espanyol, who could suffer after their two games against Barcelona.

Las Palmas and Malaga are two form sides, while the game between Levante and Rayo Vallecano sees the last two sides in the league play a game packed with drama and necessity.

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