The return of Zidane: what changed so far?
From the concerning preseason to the unsatisfactory performances in the first few league games, Real Madrid fans have already had plenty of ups and downs. After a night to forget in Paris and an embarrassing performance at home against Brugge and an unexpected loss in Mallorca in the League, it seemed as if Los Blancos were going to have another disappointing season, a considerable pressure placed on Zidane. There were questions on his ability to lead this new project, doubts about his tactics, and it looked as if the hero was quickly becoming a victim of his own success, gradually, Real Madrid’s form has taken a complete U-turn.
So, how much credit can Zidane take for these positive changes?
Since the defeat to Mallorca, Zidane has found his preferred team. There have been changes, small ones, that have created a huge swing in momentum.
This time last season, Real Madrid were four points behind Barcelona in La Liga. Two years ago, they were 10 behind, currently they’re level on points with Barcelona, with a Clasico to come in 18thof December.
The old Guard
After fielding 12 different line-ups in the opening 12 games, it seems that Zidane has found his most favoured starting eleven to fit his 4-3-3 formation. With Courtois in goal, Zidane has stuck with the old guard in defence with Carvajal, Ramos, Varane and Marcelo, the midfield is largely the same with Kroos and Casemiro being joined by Federico Valverde instead of Luka Modric. Up front, Zidane seems to favour Hazard and Benzema whilst the right flank seems to be shifting between Rodrygo and Gareth Bale.
Giving Valverde the chance
Zidane successfully implemented Valverde in the squad, the Uruguayan has given the midfield new life with his relentless running and coolness on the ball, easing the burden on the aging Luka Modric. Real’s midfield has arguably not looked this solid for the past couple of years. The presence of the 21-year-old has meant that Toni Kroos is able to push up knowing he has both Casemiro and Valverde behind him mopping up. Fede not only wins the ball back but he is also very capable in helping circulate the ball as the team looks to get on the offensive. With Fede picking up on those duties, it has also allowed Casemiro to sit between the two centre-backs, giving Real Madrid the defensive solidarity that has seen them keep a clean-sheet in 5 games in a row since losing to Mallorca. Casemiro in particular has been in fine form, nobody in the entirety of La Liga is completing more than his 3.7 tackles or making more than his 2.4 interceptions as an average per game. The newfound partnership between Casemiro and Valverde has been incredibly fruitful for Zidane. The two have played a total of 7 games together, in those games they’ve won 6 and drawn 1, the team have scored 22 goals whilst conceding just 2. The new midfield combination has not only allowed for more defensive solidarity, but it has also allowed to unlock the team’s offensive capability to the fullest.
Benzema: The real “No.9”
In Zinedine Zidane’s first spell, Benzema would play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and in front of Isco many times, his role mainly was to drop deeper and allow Ronaldo the room to play closer to goal, In the 2016-17 and the 2017-18 La Liga seasons combined, Benzema found the back of the net only 16 times.
After Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus in the summer of 2018, Benzema has had to take on the goalscoring responsibilities for Real Madrid. Last season, the Frenchman scored 30 goals and he is top goal scorer in La Liga this season with 10 goals so far in the new campaign.he has been untouchable in Zidane’s squad and is in incredible form becoming the real leader upfront.
Benzema sparkled against Paris Saint-Germain recently, scoring twice, and it was his 11th and 12th involvement in goals in the last seven games.
It will also be fair to say that Benzema’s recent brilliant run is also down to Hazard finding form, who is beginning to find his feet in Madrid after a slow start.
Without a doubt, the individual performances have improved across the board, as Zidane tweaks to the tactics have proven to really help the team turn a corner. The Frenchman has finally got the team to cohesively and effectively press in a man-to-man pressing system.
Zidane, in each of the last four matches, has asked the team to perform a man-to-man press in the opening 15 minutes. Unlike the chaotic and disjointed press at the start of the new campaign, the team have visibly been more organized and player habits are starting to form
This change has been hugely effective, with Real having scored 9 of their last 15 goals in the opening exchanges of a game, simply put, Zidane has instructed his men to strangle opponents from the off. However, the team gradually then let-up before appearing to be completely calm in possession with press resistance being completely solid.
Real are now playing some of the best football that has been seen in sometime, with his favoured eleven sorted, Zidane is implementing his tactics with relative ease.
The Players are in good form but are still yet to reach optimum. In summer, none of this seemed possible. The current transition once looked painful, however, Zidane and his players are showing signs that this side can contend sooner rather than later.