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Know Thine (eternal) Enemy, Champions League Edition: Managing Madrid’s Kiyan Sobhani

Another derbi, another chance to catch up with Managing Madrid’s chief editor.

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Semi Final Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Jeremy Beren: We just can't get rid of y'all, can we, Kiyan? Here I was, hoping against hope that the April 8 derbi would be it for this season. But no. What was your immediate reaction when the draw was announced?

Kiyan Sobhani: I'm with it. I had no interest in facing Juve's high octane approach; nor did I want to face Mbappe and Bernardo Silva on the counter-attack when our defensive transition has been suspect this season. I'd much rather a slow-paced humdrum that enables Modric and co. to build the ball and dictate possession while relying on some magic from Marcelo and Isco to unlock an incredibly great Atleti defensive scheme.

JB: So, the league title race reopened after last week's Clásico. Heading into this tie, do you think there's a chance Real Madrid will be negatively impacted - tired, injured or otherwise - because of that loss to Messilona?

KS: The Messi game-winner was an earth-shattering moment, but the team has had two games since to recover, and has won both. I don't think any remnants remain from El Clasico that would negatively affect the team. Real Madrid's response to that loss was always going to be more important than the loss itself -- and so far it's been good.

JB: Why are some Madrid fans happy that Gareth Bale is out for both legs of the semifinal?

KS: Because they have short term memory, and probably don't remember how badly he blitzed Atletico in the Derbi at the Calderon. Bale is a great player who fans don't have much patience with. In a way, it's understandable. At the same time, it's a testament to how bipolar Real Madrid fans are. I wrote about this specific issue here.

JB: Since the last derbi, a lot has been made of Zinedine Zidane's "Plan B" and how it may or may or may not be better than his "Plan A" gala XI. Can you provide an overview of that issue, and is "Plan B" really better than "Plan A"?

KS: This is a very loaded question, and even we've answered it in columns, articles, tweets, and podcasts -- and people still have questions. The answer is really not that black and white. In the Depor post-match presser, Zidane said there is neither an 'A' or 'B' team -- just one team. He's not wrong. Somewhere, a hybrid line-up exists that takes the best of both line-ups and spawns something similar to what we saw in the Calderon earlier this season. You'd end up with a double-pivot of two of Modric/Kroos/Kovacic; then Isco down the middle just behind Ronaldo and Bale/Asensio/James on the flanks.

If you're into it, listen to this podcast Om and I did to explain this further. Essentially, the sooner Real Madrid recognize that Ronaldo can play up front on his own, the sooner an extra slot in the XI can be freed for Asensio/Isco/James to help pack the midfield.

JB: I have this weird feeling that Marco Asensio is going to do something to rip out my heart. Can you explain to me why I have this feeling?

KS: What you are feeling is very normal, especially if you had a chance to witness Asensio carving Deportivo or zipping past the corpse of Hummels. You should find comfort in the fact that defensively, you're maybe 300 billion times superior to Deportivo, and so long as you're not chasing shadows and fielding injured defenders, you won't be as vulnerable as Bayern was in extra time.

JB: How confident are you that Madrid can keep a clean sheet Tuesday?

KS: I think Real Madrid will concede in at least one of the games -- most likely both. On the flipside, it remains to be seen how detrimental that will be for them, because there hasn't been a single game this season where Zidane's men have failed to score. They give and take. Atletico will have clear-cut chances in both games, without question. As I've said already, the transition defense hasn't been as good as it was last season, and there will always be miscues when facing slow-building attacks (see Griezmann's late goal at the Bernabeu in April).

JB: Real Madrid have vulnerabilities and occasionally glaring weaknesses that no one has been able to fully exploit yet. What do Atlético need to do in order to exploit said vulnerabilities?

KS: I don't think it's so much about exploiting vulnerabilities, it's about preventing a team -- no matter how sluggish they are during the eye test -- from scoring goals. Atletico will exploit Real Madrid, just as they did in the second half of April's Derbi. Their main problem will be that no matter how bad Real Madrid play, they have so much offensive firepower that they will find ways to score and win, over and over again. This is the Zidane era in a nutshell.

If we were to get into the nitty gritty, assuming Casemiro starts, Simeone should aim to hound him as he's not great escaping a press. They should also aim to get in his head, because lately he's a walking red card and has zero awareness of where he is in the referee's book. I'd normally add attacking Real Madrid's left flank to keep Marcelo honest, but we know that's not going to happen with Lucas Hernandez probably slotting in as a conservative right back.

JB: Give me your first leg scoreline prediction, please.

KS: 2-1. Just enough to keep the second leg extra spicy.