Madrid and Barcelona coping with injury-ridden start
ABS-CBN Sports on Aug 30, 2019 07:39 AM
Barcelona's Luis Suarez reacts during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Athletic Bilbao and FC Barcelona at San Mames stadium in Bilbao, northern Spain, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ion Alcoba Beitia)
By Tales Azzoni, Associated Press
MADRID (AP) — Eden Hazard still hasn't set foot on the field for an official match. Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez sat side-by-side in the stands while their teammates played in front of them.
Real Madrid and Barcelona, both plagued by a series of injuries at the start of the season, have been having a hard time already this season.
Besides Hazard, Madrid also hasn't been able to debut newcomers Rodrygo and Ferland Mendy because of injuries, while Barcelona is missing Ousmane Dembele along with Messi and Suárez for the same reason.
Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane hasn't been able to implement the changes he had promised without Hazard in the lineup.
The Belgian hurt his left thigh in the final practice session before the team's Spanish league opener two weeks ago, forcing Zidane to resort to old tactics while using players who have been on the team for some time, including Gareth Bale and Francisco "Isco" Alarcón.
Bale was expected to be gone by the time the season started, but the Wales forward has become an important piece for Zidane after the club's failed transfer attempts.
Bale started in Madrid's 3-1 opening win at Celta Vigo, playing on the same side of the field where Hazard is expected to occupy when he is back, which likely won't be until after the international break in about two weeks.
Zidane tried to promote a change when he used James Rodríguez in the midfield in the team's 1-1 home draw against Valladolid last weekend. The Colombia playmaker performed well in his return after two seasons on loan at Bayern Munich, but he also got injured and won't be available for Madrid's match at Villarreal on Sunday. Zidane will likely again resort to a midfield with old-timers Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, with Vinícius Júnior or Luka Jovic joining veterans Bale and Karim Benzema in the attack.
Other Madrid players currently unavailable because of injury include Isco, Brahim Diaz and Marco Asensio.
Contrary to Real Madrid, Barcelona was able to debut its blockbuster signing this season — Antoine Griezmann.
The France forward played both league matches so far, but the team's high-profile attack — with Griezmann, Suárez and Messi — still hasn't been on display because of the injuries affecting the Catalan club.
Messi picked up a calf injury in the preseason, while Suárez got hurt in the team's loss at Athletic Bilbao, which marked Barcelona's first opening league defeat in a decade.
Griezmann struggled in the opener but rebounded quickly by scoring twice and leading the team to a convincing 5-2 win over Real Betis at the Camp Nou on Sunday.
With few options for the attack, Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde had to use 21-year-old forward Carles Pérez in the match against Betis. Valverde also used 16-year-old Ansu Fati in the game as a second-half substitute.
Suárez and Dembele are certain to miss Barcelona's match at promoted Osasuna on Saturday, while Messi is highly unlikely to play.
"We don't need to take any risks with Messi," said Valverde, who will likely stick with Pérez in the attack and Rafinha in the midfield.
DIEGO COSTA SETBACK
Atlético Madrid also hasn't been able to count on one of its top players because of an injury.
Striker Diego Costa has yet to play after hurting a leg muscle in the preseason, but Atlético has managed to do well without him so far, winning its first two league matches with goals by forwards Álvaro Morata and Víctor "Vitolo" Machín.
Costa had already missed parts of last season because of injury.