Real Madrid vs Shakhtar Spoke to MARCA ahead of Los Blancos clash
Spanish coach Luis Castro is the boss of Shakhtar Donetsk, who Real Madrid face in their opening encounter of the Champions League group stage. The Ukrainians have been boosted by the fact that ten of their players who have been absent in the last two weeks due to COVID-19 have come back with negative results.
Shakhtar are never an easy test for any side they come up against and Castro is hopeful of springing a surprise against the 13-time European champions.
Castro spoke to MARCA about Real Madrid, his Shakhtar side, as well as various other aspects concerning the two teams, before revealing his admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo.
How many times have you watched Real Madrid vs Cadiz?
[Laughs] I’ve watched it, yes. And I’ve gone over some things, it’s true. But I don’t know if it’s going to be of much use to us, because teams change a lot from one game to another. You no longer know who you are playing against and you are not sure which players you will be able to count on. It’s all a bit chaotic.
What do you mean?
Well, being a coach today is a nightmare, that is for sure. With this pandemic and with the calendar that has been made, you are full of casualties due to positives and injuries. We have had ten absences! And until yesterday I did not know if they were going to be able to play or not in Madrid. In the end it seems that they are, but I can also tell you that they are not [able to play] more than 20 or 25 minutes.
But that problem that has affected the Shakthar can happen to any other team tomorrow.
That is why I tell you that this is a nightmare, that you can watch Madrid games and it won’t help you too much, because many times the plans they have go into the bin because suddenly you or your opponent has five casualties and everything changes . Of course you work on the games and make a plan, but now the plans break very easily.
You mentioned your frustration over the schedule
I was saying it to [Zinedine] Zidane the other day too. This is non-stop. Now we have three consecutive weeks of the league and the Champions League. Then the players go off to play three games with their national teams. Three games, not two! And then back again to play another three weeks of league and Champions [League]. And all without holidays. Because the players have hardly had holidays and the pre-season have not been good. Check out the league tables – Liverpool have let in seven, [Manchester] United six, [Manchester] City five. In Germany, Bayern [Munich] have been beaten, in Spain [Real] Madrid and Barcelona lost on the same day. The greats are suffering a lot from all this madness. Therefore, anything can happen.
So, tell me what you thought of Madrid against Cadiz
Cadiz defended a lot and very well and when they came out they did damage, that was their merit. Madrid had 75 percent possession and they didn’t know how to take advantage of it, but I think they deserved more in the second half, honestly. In football, people only look at the result, but I look at other things and there were also good things about Madrid. They have some players… I certainly am not going to speak badly about Madrid.
Is it a good time to face them?
Let’s see… I see football as a sport of abilities and Madrid has more than us. They are stronger and they are the favourites, but of course we are going to try to surprise. We can do it, but they are better.
And what is the plan against Madrid? Even if you have to change it later…
We are a team that in our league has 75 percent possession, we are a joyous team that attacks. Logically, against Madrid that is not going to happen, because with their strength they will take a lot of the ball from us. Last year against City we had 45 percent possession. Why? Not because we don’t want the ball, but because they directly take it away from you. From there, we try to adapt, defend better and take advantage of the possession we have to do damage.
I’m not sure if I see you as a bit of a defeatist
Far from it, we are going to prepare the game well. Shakthar has very strong players, of a high quality, but we were affected by the COVID situation. We have had ten important casualties. Ten!
Sergio Ramos is doubtful.
[Laughs]. You can’t really tell me this. We arrived as we arrived, and you ask me about Ramos? Seriously? He is a great player, but when Madrid have an absence, they put in another player worth 50 million euros. It can affect them, yes, but if we compare. At the last minute, we had doubts over these ten players, to see how much they can play. Twenty minutes? We played the last game with seven 20-year-old players.
At Real Madrid you will see that Zidane is criticised a lot. What do you think?
[Laughs]. Criticising Zidane… football is very ungrateful, very ungrateful. How can you criticise Zidane? He is a coach with a lot of charisma, a very good coach, who has won everything. What are we talking about? He comes from winning LaLiga, he has won the Champions League, he was first until this week…
And look at the other teams. [Jurgen] Klopp’s Liverpool aren’t first and they let in seven [against Aston Villa]. City, the same. All the great sides go through difficulties at the beginning of this season. We are in a very difficult period and I would recommend to the administrations of the clubs to be very calm, because if not, there will be a lot of setbacks, but it is normal.
Is playing at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano without a crowd an advantage for Shakhtar?
I would prefer to play at a full Bernabeu, honestly. It will be strange to play at Valdebebas, I know it because I have been there to visit and it is spectacular. I was once invited by Jose Morais, Jose Mourinho’s assistant. And again for one of the UEFA seminars. They are fantastic facilities, but playing the best competition in the world there is odd. But what are we going to do it, these are the consequences of this pandemic that we hope will end soon.
You know very well what it is like to change ground. In your case, because of the war…
Yes, it is a situation that hurts us a lot, that hurts the club. First we played in Lviv, then in Kharkiv and now we are at the Olympic stadium in Kiev. Leaving the Donbass Arena, which was a spectacular stadium, because of the war, is very hard. People had to leave the city to flee the conflict. It hurts us a lot that people are not with us. We have their support, but they are not close. We are a club that is suffering, but these are the adventures of this world that makes so many people suffer. We work to return one day, that is the dream. It will depend on what world leaders do.
What do you make of your Champions League group?
For me it is the hardest of all, but I will not get frustrated. I think you have to enjoy it and face each game as great battles. We are motivated by this difficult group. But yes, it is a very tough group. Madrid, Inter and Borussia Monchengladbach. People don’t talk about the Germans and they are a great team. I laugh at those who do not value Monchengladbach, they are the same people who said last year that Atalanta were a simple team. And I saw Gasperini’s Atalanta and they were incredible. So then, watch out for the Germans.
Do you think that Madrid struggle for goals?
When we talk about Real Madrid, there’s [Karim] Benzena, [Luka] Modric, [Marco] Asensio, Vinicius, Ramos. It’s a great team.
But they have not replaced Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals…
Let’s see, we are talking about Cristiano. When you have Cristiano on your team you should never let him go. Never! We are talking about the best, the most effective footballer in the world, a machine, a machine of sacrifice.
So is he the best then?
I do not compare. But yes, for me he is the best. Cristiano has a story behind him that is exemplary. He moved at just 11 years of age to Lisbon to be a footballer, leaving his home. Cristiano is someone that has risen alone, with a unique determination. For me he is an example for all children. People criticise Ronaldo too much. ‘What if he does this, what if he spends so much money on this or the other?’ Yet he responds on the field every game, being aware of where he comes from. The day they make a Cristiano movie and people see where he really comes from, how he became a footballer, he will be valued much more.