Zinedine Zidane still searching for his Real Madrid XI
Against Galatasaray in the Champions League, Zizou once again went for a different set of tactics, his twelfth in as many games.
Injuries, rotation and unforeseen events are some of the factors that are causing Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane not to have a clearly defined first XI, something that was more obvious during his previous seasons at the helm. Of the 12 games played so far this season, he has not repeated any starting line-up and the results and performances have been far from convincing: six wins, four draws and two losses.
LaLiga changes in XI and squad
Zidane opened up his account in the 2019-20 campaign against Celta in Balaidos with an XI that had proved difficult to predict just hours earlier. Vinicius and Bale were in, both ahead of the likes of James, Lucas Vázquez, Jovic and Isco.
Comparing that to the latest starters, in the league game against Mallorca, we saw four changes: Militao for Varane, James for Modric, Isco for Kroos, and Jovic for Bale. Injuries play a key role in this and the spine of the team - Courtois, Ramos, Casemiro and Benzema - remained in place.
The instability and constant changes in the squad is a likely explanation of performances. None of the players who were sat on the bench at Celta on the first day were on the bench against the islanders. Areola, Varane, Valverde, Brahim, Mendy, Mariano and Rodrygo replaced the names of Keylor, Militao, Nacho, James, Lucas, Jovic and Isco as substitutes. That is some variation in the wider squad consistency.
Champions League modifications
Zidane's constant changes have not only been in domestic competition, but also in the Champions League. Against PSG and Brugge in the opening group games, the Frenchman made four changes to the starting line-up. Lucas Vázquez was a notable one, brought in to support Bale and Benzema.
In the third game away to Galatasaray, Rodrygo, Valverde and Marcelo were given their roles after missing out previously.
Areola, Valverde and Mendy break the norm
The inconsistency of Zidane's XIs can also be explained by several names changing their prominance in the squad, taking that step from solid back-up, to preferred first choice. Areola and Mendy were brought in this summer and have been given their chance to stake their claim a couple of times. The four starts for Valverde, James coming in and out of the team. These options, when available, have seen the coach break up an XI that had possibly looked to be a settled choice, but never has been.
Ramos and Casemiro ruling the line-up
One of the interesting aspects of this season's Madrid is that no player has started all 12 games. Sergio Ramos and Casemiro have kicked off most times on the pitch, both starting ten matches. Benzeman and Kroos are other regulars, with nine starts each, but the likes of James, Valverde, Vinicius and Odriozola have all started just four games. Even one of the summer's big signings, Jovic has struggled to nail down a place, starting only three.
Hazard, Bale and Modric: the unpredictable trio
Zidane, and many Madridistas, could not have imagined that players like Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric would not have started half of the games by this point. Injuries have been the big factor in their case, with a decision on how, and when, to introduce them on their return, often meaning a place on the bench.
Hazard arrived in the summer as the Galáctico signing, ready to lead Madrid from the off. With just three starts, totalling 266 minutes, patience is required before his true value will be seen. Bale, who has started the same number of games and has collected 516 minutes on the pitch, is in a similar situation to the Belgian, although has certainly shone at times when available. Modric, last year's Ballon d'Or winner, has begun just one match, playing just 157 minutes in total.
Fresh for finale or out of the race?
Although many of the changes have been forced upon Zidane, he has also chosen to switch players and formation around when unnneccesary. If performances don't pick up, further questions will be asked about the lack of consistency in selections, but there is clearly another way this can play out.
As the business end of the season arrives into 2020, could the additional 'rest' for key players prove to be a vital ingredient for the run-in? His problem will be ensuring that Los Blancos are, at least, in contention by that point.
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