Madrid turns focus from Super League to Champions League
MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane wants nothing to do with the Super League.
Last week, the Spanish club was doing everything possible to make the controversial breakaway competition happen, attracting attention to it and trying to convince everyone it was a good idea.
Now, on the eve of the Champions League semifinals against Chelsea, Zidane is working hard to steer away from it.
“What we have to do is to compete and to only think about playing soccer. That’s it,” Zidane said Monday. “If we start to think about everything that is being said ... it would make it worse. We can only think about the match. The referee will do his job. We have to compete as always. We can’t control the rest, so we can’t think about it.”
Tuesday’s first leg against Chelsea in Madrid comes after widespread backlash against the attempt to create the new Super League, which had Madrid president Florentino Pérez as one of its masterminds. Chelsea also was among the founding members, but the team pulled out along with the rest of the English clubs immediately after the criticism surfaced.
Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel said the game against Madrid wouldn’t be affected by the off-the-field antics of the owners.
“I do not imagine that there is any advantage or disadvantage because of a sports political discussion,” Tuchel said. “I don’t even want to think about it, because it does not exist in my eyes.”
European governing body UEFA was vehemently against the new soccer competition and threatened to punish those involved. There was even the threat of kicking out of the Champions League the teams that didn’t officially announce they were giving up on the Super League.
The Madrid president still hasn’t backed away from the competition and said it’s still needed to help the clubs financially. Pérez said the league is on “stand-by” and will eventually happen in some form.
Zidane is keeping his focus on the immediate future.
“It would be absurd to think that we won’t be in the Champions League next season,” Zidane said. “What we have to do is to continue to stay focused on tomorrow’s match. We can’t control the rest. A lot will be said. My opinion is that we want to see Real Madrid in the Champions League again next year.”
Madrid is playing in the Champions League semifinals for the ninth time in the last 11 seasons, having won four titles in that period. It is coming off two consecutive eliminations in the last 16, though. Chelsea won the European title in 2012 and made it to the last four again two years later, but it hadn’t been back to the semifinals since then.
“What matters is the present,” Zidane said. “This Chelsea team has done its job in the Champions League and deserves to be in the semifinals. Just like Real Madrid deserves it. Chelsea also is a very experienced team. We will need to play two very good matches to advance.”
Zidane will likely be able to count again on Eden Hazard, the former Chelsea forward who has been marred by injuries with Madrid but will be available to play on Tuesday. He returned to action for a few minutes in the team’s 0-0 draw against Real Betis in the Spanish league on Saturday, and Zidane said the Belgian player could become “very important” for the team in this decisive stage of the season.
“I talked to him and he is very motivated,” Madrid defender Raphael Varane said of Hazard. “You are always motivated when you are playing in a Champions League semifinal, and even more so if it’s against your former club. He knows our opponent very well.”
Madrid will also be boosted by the return of veteran midfielder Toni Kroos, who was rested in the team’s last three games. But Zidane won’t be able to count on left back Ferland Mendy and captain Sergio Ramos because of injuries.
AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas in Sundsvall, Sweden, contributed to this report.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni