Zinedine Zidane Talks Lionel Messi and More Ahead of Las Palmas vs. Real MadridSeptember 23, 2016
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane believes Barcelona will not be as strong without Lionel Messi, who is set to be sidelined for three weeks.
The forward picked up an injury during the 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, and the club confirmed the 29-year-old will be out for a spell. When asked about how Barcelona will fare without their star attacker, Zidane provided an honest assessment, per Dom Farrell of Goal.
"They are weakened, definitely," said the Los Blancos boss. "Not too much, but Messi is Messi with what he brings to their side. Their side is definitely different when he is not there."
It's a statement that goes without saying, in many respects. After all, Messi is considered by many to be the finest player of his generation, and given just how well he started the season—he's already netted seven goals for Barca—the attack will miss his total mastery of the ball.
That much was evident as the Blaugrana toiled against Atletico's mean defence late on. Even with Luis Suarez and Neymar on the pitch, the visitors were watertight in their work in the latter stages, and that provided a platform from which they could have snatched victory themselves.
However, few managers will have sympathy for Enrique with the attacking options he has at his disposal. As we can see here, courtesy of the UEFA Champions League Twitter feed, Barca actually fared well last season when Messi was injured:
Nevertheless, Zidane may sense there is a chance for Real to turn the screw in the title race. It was a chance they missed on Wednesday with their two main rivals up against one another, as Los Blancos toiled to a 1-1 draw with Villarreal.
Ahead of Saturday's showdown with a strong Las Palmas side, Zidane pulled no punches in his assessment of the display.
"What I can tell you is that in the last game I was not too happy about the first half from the whole team, not just one or two players," said the manager. "But the team came together as a whole. It was a team problem in the first half."
The Villarreal clash was also the first time in La Liga this season Zidane was able to call upon Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in the same XI.
As these numbers from Sky Sports Statto show, the trio formed a potent attacking force last season:
However, with all three recently suffering with injuries, they weren't quite at full tilt on Wednesday. "They are in good shape," Zidane said. "They could be better, perhaps yes. They can all score goals and can all score two or three goals but I'm happy with the way they are working."
After dropping two points at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, Real were handed a reprieve when their two biggest challengers also played out a draw. In terms of the title race, Zidane's men remain well in control and will be hoping Barcelona are inhibited by the absence of their star man.
It's important Madrid preserve their focus, though, especially against a dangerous opponent in Las Palmas. Quique Setien's team may have lost 4-1 to Real Sociedad last time out, but they've played some wonderful football at times this season. Zidane and his players should be confident coming into the game but careful approaching what is a potential banana skin.