Zidane's seven keys to record success with Real Madrid
On 12 April 2016 Real Madrid under the management of Zinedine Zidane suffered their last defeat and have since gone 39 games without losing. Could these be the reasons?
On April 12, 2016, Real Madrid had their last taste of defeat. It was a 2-0 loss at the hands of Wolfsburg in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 round. Since that game against the Germans, Zinedine Zidane has guided his squad through 39 consecutive matches unbeaten, equalling the Spanish record set by Luis Enrique.
We reflect, using the incredibly useful power of hindsight, on seven pillars that have defined his stewardship over that time bringing him, and the club, to this point.
1. Peaceful camp
From the moment Zidane took the reigns of Los Blancos, there has generally been a sense of calm around the playing staff. There have been very few incidents that have disturbed the harmony of the group and those that there have been - it's impossible not to have them when the spotlight is continuously on you - have played second fiddle to the results that have come on the field. Even the Fifa sanctions haven't noticeably brought negativity to the club.
2. Winning titles
Zidane has brought three out of four trophies to the Santiago Bernabéu in his time there. The Champìons League, the European Super Cup and Fifa's Club World Cup have boosted the prestige of the Frenchman, still early in his managerial career.
3. Handling bad times
The four consecutive draws early in the season (Villarreal, Las Palmas, Dortmund and Eibar) were dealt with calmly by the head coach and, outwardly at least, he did not doubt in the model that he was building. A 1-6 away thumping of Betis at the Villamarín helped return the team emphatically to winning ways.
4. Managing the squad
As is expected from arguably the biggest club in world football, the Real Madrid squad is full of highly paid, highly ambitious, international stars. Being able to use each of them effectively, while holding to the desired gameplan (both in the short and long-term), and keeping those lesser-used players happy to remain part of the wider squad is a challenge even the best managers in the world struggle with. A key part of the success Zidane has enjoyed has been his management of Kovacic, Isco, Nacho, Lucas Vázquez, Morata, Asensio and James - all of whom could be considered outside the starting XI but who have all contributed at different times of the record run. This flexibility in squad rotation has meant that injuries to key players are no longer seen as damaging to prospects as before.
5. Aerial improvements
Zidane and his coaching team have worked on the heading effectiveness of the team both in an offensive and defensive capacity. Sergio Ramos has taken many of the headlines with his strength in the attacking area (think Deportivo, Camp Nou and Super Cup) but Varane has also shown his heading strengths. Madrid have only conceded two headed goals this season, but scored eight - the most in LaLiga.
6. Defensive solidity
Only Villarreal can boast a better defensive record than Real Madrid who have conceded just 14 goals this season in the league. But Zidane's defensive unit does more than just prevent goals. As alluded to before, players like Ramos and Varane add value at the other end of the pitch and together with Danilo, Carvajal, Pepe, Nacho, Marcelo and Coentrao, have contributed 18 goals and 15 assists in all competitions.
7. Tactical astuteness
Hindsight has given us the luxury of looking back with confidence on Zidane's achievements but we should remember that there have been moments along the way when serious questions were being asked of the French coach. Ahead of the derby at the Calderón, many commentators were doubting the tactical nous of the Madrid manager. Following it, many agreed it was his most effective to date - and his use of Isco and Lucas Vázquez caught many by surprise. The Camp Nou was another big test, and this time he adapted the base position of Vázquez to allow the midfield line of Modric-Kovacic-Isco to dominate those of Luis Enrique. More recently, Sevilla came to town with Sampaoli at in the dugout and a trio of Casemiro, Kroos and Modric, with support from James and Asensio, saw a dominant performance.
The past we can see and judge, with results often the driving force to our own decision making, and Zidane has impressed. How the rest of this 2016/17 season are shaped by him will go a long way to defining the level of manager he can become.