It is almost assumed, even somewhat accepted, that this Madrid is not for leagues. First of all because Barça are good at doing the Barça thing, and second because under the protection of the Champions League they are living too comfortably. On that high-profiled Uefa mattress Los Blancos have rested in recent seasons, from the first team starters to the promising youngsters, awaiting yet another European Cup to justify so much neglect. But Zidane's Plan B of this campaign, a 'tactic' much praised just a year ago, has not proven so successful, neither in their lazy efforts to challenge in LaLiga nor in their domestic cup failure. Last night in the Pizjuán they left their fans with even more disappointment, a poor result accompanied by a surprising apathy, as if the match itself was more of a hindrance than an opportunity, and where there was no desire to disguise that.
Defensive Plan B failings
There are several victims of this current Plan B. Theo Hernández for one is unanimously targeted for finger pointing, a highly-regarded player whose attributes seem to have changed during his Vitoria-Madrid journey. He has never really proved himself as a real alternative to Marcelo, perfectly demonstrated in Seville, where he once again appeared clueless, with no effective presence in attack and imprecision with the ball (he failed with six passes, four crosses and three dribbling attempts). No one is surprised that Zidane has not used him in any of the big games, the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup possibly being an early exception.
Close to Theo, in both position and in performance, was Jesús Vallejo, who has begun as a centre half of ups and downs. There are some very promising performances but just as many disturbing ones. On Wednesday evening, what should have been a formidable wall alongside captain Sergio Ramos, was instead an unfurled red carpet for Ben Yedder and co.
Behind the two youngsters stood an unconvincing Casilla in goal. Although he did show an improvement in the second half he was at fault for the first goal, could have done more for the second and third, and generally transmitted insecurity to his backline. Despite Keylor's inconsistency, he has not been able to make a serious assault on the ownership of the number one jersey.
Ceballos and Mayoral merit
Dani Ceballos had a pass, penalised enough by Zidane's distrust than by his performances. Against Sevilla he tried everything, but was swallowed up by the collective slump and was overcome by the atmosphere, a stadium ready to mock an old Betis foe. It was a similar case for Mayoral, someone who has been almost reduced to training striker but who statistically sits as the second most efficient player in front of goal.
With two games - at home to Celta and away to Villarreal - still to come, Zidane is already focusing on the Kiev final, but will also be keen to show that those on the periphery of the first team can step in, and perform, when called upon.