Depending on your point of view, Zidane's decision to play Kovacic ahead of Isco on Saturday was either brave or cowardly. It was a brave move in so far as it was laden with risk and went against the will of the majority of fans; cowardly in the way he took a protective, defensive mentality into the game. The decision ultimately went against the French coach, not because of the 0-3 scoreline but because his protective shield went missing in the key stage of the encounter. The way in which Kovacic let Rakitic run through the heart of the Bernabeu pitch was significant. One thing is to be given a close marking job, another thing is to abandon basic defensive responsibilities in the heat of a game.
Saturday's tactical decision will haunt Zidane for some while and his leniency with Benzema is now certainly starting to test even his most devout defenders. The French coach, however still has plenty of accumulated credit having won a remarkable eight out of ten available titles but the situation for Madrid in the league does not bode well for the club in their quest to retain their LaLiga crown. The coach now has the challenge of keeping his players onside with Isco being castigated after two or three average performances whilst the coach insists on always fielding Benzema despite his poor form. It's true that Kovacic was excellent against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup but so was Asensio and he only started on the bench.
Valverde's Barça evolution
On the other bench, Valverde delivered a solid tactical display at the Bernabéu and his influence on this Barça side is more than impressive. Things augured less well back in August with Neymar's departure, malcontent within the squad, a humiliating Spanish Super Cup loss to Madrid, Iniesta stalling on his contract renewal, new signing Dembélé injuring himself, the doubts surrounding the Paulinho move and stalemate on Messi penning a new contract... The Basque coach has managed to bring a calm to the club and over time has won over the players, fans and sports media. He closes the year after a great win for his side in a match-day that also saw chasing Valencia and Atletico Madrid slip-up. Valverde deserves this success.