REAL MADRID

The key challenges for Zidane as he starts first full season as coach

Preseason officially starts on 16 July, marking the start of Zidane's first full campaign at Real Madrid. These are the key challenges that face him as the squad reassembles...

Ration Ronaldo

Cristiano played 5,360 minutes in 61 games last season. He ended up exhausted and injured after playing the last of those games at the Euro 2016 final in Paris. Zidane doesn’t want to force him and Ronaldo won’t play again until he’s completely recovered. Remember back in April when Cristiano injured himself in the last minute of the 3-0 win over Villarreal? Zidane said then he was regretful for not having rationed his playing time more. That’ll be his biggest challenge now with the forward turning 32 in February.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Benzema v Morata

Morata’s role at Madrid has changed. He’s not the same player who left the club in search of experience. He returns after making himself a key player at Juventus over the last two years (even scoring a goal in the Champions League final and knocking Real Madrid out of the same competition with another), and was also Spain’s starting striker at Euro 2016 (three goals) . He’ll have to fight for his place at Real though with Karim Benzema, although he could also fill in for Bale and Ronaldo. “The idea is clear…to play with the BBC”, said Zidane when he was presented last year. Morata now surely enters that equation.

Bale’s role

The Welshman had a wonderful end to the season with Madrid, finishing the campaign with 19 goals and 11 assists, as well as leading his country to the semifinals of the European Championship, playing a starring role. He’s expected continue the same role at his club side, but Zidane will have to manage the situation with skill. The Frenchman will want more goals from Bale without him invading the space of Cristiano, who for at least for one more season will be Real Madrid’s undisputed heavyweight.

Gareth Bale

Team balance

Zidane took a little while in finding the key to the team’s balance, but he did so by including Casemiro in the starting 11 (starting his first game in Zidane’s 10th match as manager in March). The Brazilian midfielder won his place indefinitely in the side after Real’s win at Camp Nou in April and played in all of Los Blancos’ key encounters from there on in (aside from the Champions League semis, when he was injured). Zidane will have to decide if he continues to go with the same piece in the jigsaw.

James and Isco

If he continues to put his trust in Casemiro, James and Isco’s roles in the side will again be a problem. The two are used to being important players, and will not be content with a place on the subs bench. Zidane will have to find a solution or open the doors…

JAMES RODRIGUEZ

Physical preparation

Zidane blamed Benitez for the bad physical condition of the Real Madrid side when he arrived at the Bernabéu (when asked at a press conference about the general fitness of Ronaldo, he said “he needs to work more, like everyone else”). Now the responsibility in pre-season will be his. Zidane has brought in Antonio Pintus, a trusted physical who’s worked at Lyon, to help him.

Varane

The centreback didn’t play one minute in Zidane’s most important games last season. El Clásico and the Champions League final he missed through injury, but the CL semifinals Zidane chose not to pick him. With Ramos’ place in the side unquestioned and Pepe coming off the back of a marvelous Euro 2016, Zidane will have to keep Varane happy somehow…