Blows for Barca, Real Madrid in crucial month ahead

In crucial month ahead, Neymar will serve ban for red card, while Pepe's injury gives Zidane a headache

Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid were both dealt blows over the weekend, as they enter a crucial part of the season.

Real defender Pepe fractured two rib bones in their 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid on Saturday, joining fellow centre back Raphael Varane on the sidelines.

This has left Real coach Zinedine Zidane with a defensive headache ahead of a two-legged Champions League quarter-final tie with Bayern Munich and an El Clasico date with Barcelona on April 24.

Barcelona, meanwhile, had star forward Neymar sent off for the first time in his career during their shock 2-0 loss to Malaga yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Besides missing Sunday's visit of Real Sociedad, Neymar could also be banned for El Clasico after sarcastically applauding the match officials after he was sent off.

The Brazilian was booked in the first half for delaying a Malaga free-kick by tying his shoelaces in front of the ball.

He then charged into Roberto Rosales 25 minutes from time, earning a second yellow card, which left a bitter taste in the mouth of Barcelona coach Luis Enrique.

Defender Pepe (left) goes off with fractured ribs shortly after giving Real Madrid the lead against Atletico Madrid.PHOTOS: EPA, REUTERS

"I think the interpretation of the yellow cards is special," said Enrique.

"We have to be very careful in some games because there were some ugly challenges from behind that went unpunished but tying boots was."

Defeat leaves Barca three points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand.

Los Blancos had led against Atletico through a towering Pepe header, but were pegged back by an equaliser by Antoine Griezmann five minutes from time.

Pepe, who scored in the 53rd minute, had to leave the pitch shortly afterwards after colliding with teammate Toni Kroos.

Real later confirmed that the 34-year-old Portuguese had fractured his seventh and eighth left ribs.

That leaves Zidane with Sergio Ramos and Nacho Fernandez as his only centre backs for a tough month ahead.

Besides El Clasico, Real also face Bayern in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Thursday morning (Singapore time).

The situation has left Zidane admitting that his future could be out of his hands if he fails to deliver a major trophy this term.

"You have to ask someone else about that, not me," he replied, in reference to Real president Florentino Perez, when asked if he could survive without winning either La Liga or the Champions League.

"I am the coach and I dedicate myself to coaching every day with strength and the desire that this shirt and this club demands. I can't speculate about the rest."

Zidane has an excellent record since taking over at Real in January 2016.

The Frenchman led Madrid to their 11th Champions League crown last season and has added the Uefa Super Cup and Club World Cup this season.

However, Perez, who is expected to win a third consecutive election to remain as club president this summer, has a habit of sacking coaches despite previous successes.

Current Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti was relieved of his duties at the Bernabeu in 2015 just a year after winning the Champions League and Copa del Rey Double. - WIRE SERVICES


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