Zidane in awe of spirited Real Madrid but insists it's no 'miracle' to be in Champions League semis

By Sports Desk May 04, 2021

Zinedine Zidane has been left in awe of his Real Madrid team for their persistence this season despite an often-lengthy injury list, though he insists it is no "miracle" to be in the Champions League semi-finals.

Madrid face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday having drawn 1-1 at home to the Blues last week, meaning Thomas Tuchel's men have a slender advantage secured by their away goal.

The omens are not great for Madrid, as they have never beaten Chelsea in four previous meetings and not won on any of their past four trips to England.

On top of that, Tuchel has only suffered four home defeats out of a possible 18 in the Champions League and seen his teams average 2.7 goals per game in those matches.

But Madrid showed character to salvage a draw in the first leg with Karim Benzema levelling Christian Pulisic's opener, and Zidane believes the fact they have got this far despite operating with a depleted squad for much of 2021 is testament to the team's excellent mentality.

"You have to take your hat off to this team," he told reporters on Tuesday. "Every time there are difficulties, they respond. They are the best. We are where we want to be and it is deserved.

"The team has character, first of all, and when things get complicated, they are there."

However, when it was put to Zidane that Madrid's progress this far into the competition was akin to a "miracle", the Frenchman did not want to get carried away.

"It's not a miracle to be here, not at all, on the contrary," he said. "We are here for our work and because we believe in what we do.

"We're here because of our work, nothing else. In football, there are no miracles."

Madrid have recovered several key players for the trip to London, with Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Federico Valverde and Ferland Mendy all able to travel.

While the loss of Raphael Varane to an abductor injury was a blow, the return of captain Ramos – out since March – will add leadership and experience to the side.

"I'm not going to risk anything," Zidane said of Ramos' inclusion. "If he's with us, he's ready to play.

"He's with us, that means it's okay. It's the most important thing, to have our leader."

Eden Hazard appeared against his former club off the bench last week and Zidane is backing the Belgian to have an impact at Stamford Bridge.

"It's a very good moment for him and I think he comes prepared," Zidane added. "We are going to need him and he'll help, for sure."

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    Ash Barty was in clinical form to swat aside Jessica Pegula 6-2 6-0 in just 63 minutes and book her spot in the Australian Open semi-finals.

    The world number one is still to drop a set at her home slam in Melbourne and made easy work of her opponent as Barty continued her bid to become the first female Australian singles champion since Chris O'Neil in 1978.

    Barty won nine games in a row from 3-2 up in the first set to take complete command and she can now prepare for a semi-final showdown with another American in the form of Madison Keys.

    A nervy-looking Pegula was rushing her shots in the early exchanges and Barty broke in the first game when a forehand cross set up a break point chance that her opponent put into the net.

    Barty had chalked up 12 unforced errors by game four, but it was her aggressive tactics that had Pegula completely on the ropes and when a thumping forehand set up another break point in game seven, it was little surprise when it was converted.

    By this point Barty was in complete command and Pegula had no answer to the variety of shots her opponent rained down on her.

    The second set raced by in just 28 minutes, with Barty putting the finishing touch on a mightily impressive performance when Pegula put a return long on the second match point.

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    On reaching the semis in Melbourne for the second time after doing so in 2020, she added: "I've grown as a person, as a player, I'm a more complete tennis player.

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    Barty defeated both Pegula and Keys en route to winning her maiden slam title at the 2019 French Open and history could be repeating itself here with the world number one playing arguably the best tennis of her career.

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    Barty – 17/22
    Pegula – 7/26

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    Barty – 6/2
    Pegula – 1/3

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    Barty – 5/9
    Pegula – 0/1

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    A year after losing from two-sets-to-love up at the same stage to Stefanos Tsitsipas, there was almost a repeat for Nadal.

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    A superb forehand winner down the line got Nadal going before three wild forehands in a row from Shapovalov saw him fall 3-1 behind.

    Shapovalov was unable to make any inroads against the Nadal serve, winning just five return points in a 39-minute opening set.

    The Canadian was angry with chair umpire Carlos Bernardes' decision not to give Nadal a time violation between sets and the players unusually met at the net before the second game of the second set.

    Nadal needed a tough hold during a 12-point sixth game and he capitalised in the next, an overhead securing the break after Shapovalov had sent a forehand well long at 30-30 to end a point he had been in complete control of.

    Nadal closed out the set, but found trouble in the sixth game of the third as he faced break points for the first time after a double fault.

    After saving both and holding serve, Nadal was broken at the key time – when serving to stay in the set – as Shapovalov delivered a backhand cross-court winner to extend the contest.

    The momentum had well and truly swung and a double fault from Nadal saw Shapovalov break for 3-1 in the fourth set.

    Approaching the three-hour mark, Nadal required a medical timeout, seemingly suggesting an issue with his stomach.

    Shapovalov found himself in some trouble trying to level the match, but recovered from 15-40 to force a fifth set.

    Nadal – who had been beaten from two-sets-to-love up just twice previously in his grand slam career – had to save a break point in the opening game of the decider, a volley winner to hold drawing huge cheers from the Rod Laver Arena crowd.

    Instead, Shapovalov played a loose game, two wayward forehands, a double fault and a framed backhand giving Nadal a break and 2-0 lead.

    Nadal, looking far more energetic, saved two break points in the third game before becoming more comfortable on serve on his way to the last four, Shapovalov smashing his racquet after match point.

     

    DATA SLAM: Nadal overcomes major Melbourne hurdle … just

    Nadal improved his record in grand slam quarter-finals to 36-9, but the last eight has often been a problem in Melbourne during his incredible career.

    He is now 7-7 in Australian Open quarter-finals after surviving the Shapovalov battle, far worse than his record at the French Open (14-1), Wimbledon (7-0) and US Open (8-1).

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    Nadal – 41/28
    Shapovalov – 53/51

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    Sevilla had a loan bid for Martial rejected earlier this month, but Goal reports that the issues have been ironed out and the out-of-favour forward is now set to undergo a medical.

    Juventus are said to have been among a number of other European sides in the running to sign Martial, but Sevilla were always his preferred destination.

    The LaLiga club are expected to pay a loan fee for the former Monaco man, potentially as much as €5.96million (£5m), while the player himself will accept a cut in wages.


    ROUND-UP

    – After growing frustrated in their attempt to sign Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina, The Sun reports that Arsenal may now instead go after Real Madrid's Luka Jovic this month.

    – Calciomercato claims that Serie A leaders Inter are close to strengthening their squad with the addition of striker Felipe Caicedo from Genoa.

    Watford are set to move quickly on the back of sacking head coach Claudio Ranieri by bringing in Roy Hodgson as early as Tuesday, according to Sky Sports.

    – Goal suggest that Bayern Munich are targeting Chelsea's Andreas Christensen on a free transfer after Niklas Sule turned down the offer of a new contract in Bavaria.

    Manchester City are increasingly confident of wrapping up a deal for Julian Alvarez. However, the Daily Mail reports that the striker will initially remain on loan with River Plate.

    Newcastle United have made a fresh approach for Man Utd winger Jesse Lingard, according to The Telegraph. The Magpies are happy to pay a £6m loan fee.

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