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REAL MADRID

Zidane's lack of a set system continues to confuse

Zinedine Zidane is almost six months back on the bench at Real Madrid but he can not find a suitable formation and continues to change for every game.

Zidane's lack of a set system continues to confuse
JOSEP LAGO AFP

Almost six month after Zinedine Zidane's return, Real Madrid continue without a system or a set starting team. Madrid have shown the same symptoms of uncertainty, inconsistency and lack of automation between the players that they did before the French manager came back. Zidane has tried different formations (4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and a three-man defense in preseason) but none of them have alleviated the problems that persist, particularly against opposition counter-attacks -- 13 counters per game -- along with an unbalanced attack.

Madrid have faced three opponents so far this season in Celta Vigo, Valladolid and Villarreal each of them adopting a distinct styles of play. Zidane used a 4-3-3 in the first with Bale and Vinicius as the two wide men and Benzema as the spearhead of the attack. In the second game, he kept the same formation but with James as the third midfielder and Isco starting on the left. The third game was a 4-4-2 with Lucas and Bale on the right and left of midfield along with Jovic and Benzema as a two-man strike force. It was another deviation in concept and structure as confusion reigns.

The setbacks seem endemic. The difficulties they have faced can be put down to individual errors and a lack of punch in attack -- eight attempts per game but only six goals in total -- but it's the tactical changes that perplex. Zidane does not seem to be able to find defensive balance and they lack an ability to contain the opposition. Casemiro is the only trustworthy player who contributes with consistency. The Brazilian has recovered 35 balls in three games so far this season. If the initial press doesn't work, however, Madrid are incapable of stopping breaks between the full-back and centre-backs and there is no support between the lines. Mendy helped with his defensive commitment on Sunday after Zidane chose him to watch the lively Samuel Chuckwueze for Villarreal.

In the offensive phase, and with Hazard in the recovery ward, they are lacking a central threat. With an average of seven attacks through the middle compared to 35 on the right and 31 on the left, they are clearly missing something in the middle. They are crossing the ball 19 times per game with 34 against Villarreal. Real Madrid need to enrich their attack and cause problems all over the front line and attacking midfield.

The base: 1-4-3-3

This was the system deployed in the game against Celta, until the sending off of Modric. It was the same system used against Valladolid until the introductions of Vinicius and Jovic. In Balaidos, it worked and there was a sense of security with it in that game. The inclusion of James against Valladolid gave it another air of incision.

The change-up: 1-4-4-2

Zidane opted for this structure to beat Villarreal's depth and to exploit their weaknesses from crosss. They lost presence in defensive midfield with Casemiro operating further up the field though. Benzema and Jovic need to improve their combinations in this structure. At the end of the game, it looked more like a 4-2-4 than a 4-4-2.

The beginning: 1-4-2-3-1

The preseason started with this system against Bayern and they went back to it during the victory over Fenerbahce. In some instances, it was used against Valladolid. There was room for Isco and James in this formation and included Benzema as the intermediary between midfield and Jovic.

The trial: 1-3-5-2

Another potential formation to be pulled out of the drawer. Zidane used it against Salzburg and Roma. This did not fix their vulnerability and they had 24 counters against the Austrian side despite having Casemiro as the deepest midfielder. The terrible first half against Roma forced Zidane to put it to one side for the time being.