Real Madrid: A damaging night for Odriozola, James, Isco & Jovic
Zidane's aim was to repeat the 'Plan B' strategy of the 2016/17 season, but defeat at Mallorca was a cold dose of reality for the Real Madrid boss.
Zinedine Zidane's aim was to repeat the strategy that had led Real Madrid to a LaLiga and Champions League double in 2016/17. That year, Los Blancos' coach boasted a second-string side capable of earning crucial league wins at places such as Eibar, Leganés, Granada, A Coruña and Gijón - victories that not only played a major role in securing Madrid's 33rd domestic title, but also helped to keep regular starters' legs fresh for the business end of the European campaign.
This season, the late-September win over Osasuna, a game for which Zidane made no fewer than eight changes, offered up early cause for optimism that the coach could successfully reprise the plan. However, Saturday night's defeat to Real Mallorca provided the Frenchman with a cold dose of reality - and left question marks hanging over a number of the men he brought into the side, not least Álvaro Odriozola, Isco, James Rodríguez and Luka Jovic.
Odriozola simply hasn't got going this season; Saturday was the second time already that he has made a fine mess of things. In Madrid's opening-day win at Celta Vigo, his double error presented the hosts with what appeared to be an equalising goal, only for the fortunate full-back's blushes to be spared by VAR's decision to disallow the strike. After that horror show, he wasn't seen again for several games.
On that occasion, Odriozola could at least point to a pre-season injury lay-off as an excuse. However, he went to Son Moix fully match fit and still came away with the finger of blame pointing squarely at him. He did not get nearly tight enough on Lago Junior when the forward fired in Mallorca's goal (albeit James could also have done a little more to help him out), and later compounded that slackness by picking up a needless, reckless second yellow card that left his team with 10 men.
After trudging off the pitch, Odriozola could be seen watching on from the tunnel entrance, clearly distraught. When Madrid signed the 23-year-old for 30m euros plus add-ons in summer 2018, he had established himself as a Spain regular, even winning a place in the World Cup squad. He has lost his way completely since then.
James started the season well, offering up promising displays that were particularly notable for the physical shifts he put in. But he failed to make the most of the opportunity given to him in Mallorca. In the first half, his previous willingness to track back was conspicuous by its absence, most evidently when Mallorca netted their winner: as attack turned into defence, the Colombian left Odriozola to deal with Lago Junior all by himself.
Although James upped his workrate after half time, he was unable to have an impact on the game. In all, he only contributed one moment worthy of positive note: a long, raking pass into the box and onto the toes of Karim Benzema, whose half-volley rebounded off the crossbar. Together with Isco, James was tasked with dictating the game in Mallorca, and failed.
Isco was nowhere to be seen on Saturday evening. That's been the story of his start to the season. A player short on sharpness (which, given his injury struggles so far in 2019/20, is at least understandable), the midfielder did nothing with ball at feet to pose even the slightest of threats to the Mallorca backline.
Having not been a part of the Spain squad in the most recent international break, Isco had a 10-day period of training at Valdebebas during which he knew he was going to be starting against Los Bermellones, but it was to precious little avail. At Son Moix, the Andalusian just did not justify his place in the line-up.
His importance at Madrid has diminished alarmingly, particularly when you consider he started both of the team's last two Champions League finals. Indeed, his appearance stats are indicative of a player whose first-team presence is on the wane. In the seasons since his 2013 move from Málaga, his game-time percentages have been: 58%, 71%, 56%, 42%, 53%, 33% and, so far this term, just 13%.
Fielded in a role just in front of Benzema in Mallorca, Jovic was hauled off after the break with not a single shot to his name. That tells you all you need to know. He wasn't even involved in an attacking move inside the opposition box, and made just 22 passes - fewer than any other outfield player in the Madrid starting XI. Only goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, with a total of 16, finished behind him.
The striker has now played eight times for Madrid - twice from the start - but is still to score. His last club goal came back on 2 May, a full 172 days ago, in Eintracht Frankfurt's Europa League semi-final against Chelsea. His most recent strike for Serbia (whose squad he was dropped from this month due to a disagreement with his national coach, Ljubisa Tumbakovic) was on 10 June, against Lithuania...
Madrid parted with 60m euros for a player who, last season, scored 27 goals in 48 games to establish himself as one of Europe's most sought-after strikers. Looking at the 21-year-old's short career overall, though, 2018/19 is so far the only campaign in which he has stood out in front of goal. The previous year, he mustered just nine goals in 27 matches for Eintracht, having failed to get off the mark in the four appearances he had been given by Benfica before then.
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