Real Madrid: Zidane's team takes shape - Rodrygo, Valverde...
Wednesday's 5-0 LaLiga win over Leganés saw Zinedine Zidane name his first unchanged Real Madrid side of the season...
Zinedine Zidane had clearly been struggling to settle on his first-choice Real Madrid XI this season, naming 12 different line-ups in the first 12 games of 2019/20.
Against Leganés on Wednesday evening, however, the Madrid head coach finally named an unchanged side, placing his faith in the team that had earned a crucial Champions League win at Galatasaray in Los Merengues' previous outing.
And just as it had in Turkey, a team composed of Thibaut Courtois, Dani Carvajal, Raphaël Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Fede Valverde, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Rodrygo Goes, Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard not only came away victorious, but allied that good result with a fine performance...
Courtois keeping clean sheets
The wins over Leganés and Galatasaray not only brought positive displays, but also clean sheets. Courtois had not managed a shut-out at the Bernabéu since a 3-0 defeat of Alavés back in February, but seems to have returned from his period out with acute gastroenteritis with renewed resolve. Against 'Lega', he was subjected to the odd initial boo from the home fans, but, after a very decent performance that brought three saves - the first a fine stop to deny Óscar Rodríguez - he turned the jeers into cheers.
Improvement from Marcelo
With Carvajal, Varane and Ramos all clear picks in Madrid's best defence, the only question marks have been over left-back. However, Zidane appears to have settled that debate. Having entrusted Marcelo with the position in Istanbul, he then kept him in his side a week later, and the Brazilian has responded with an upturn in form. He came out of the Leganés win with an 87% pass-completion rate, six ball recoveries and two shots on goal. Zidane appears unmoved by the club's 48m-euro investment in Ferland Mendy, who has played just 270 minutes this term, albeit he has missed a month through injury.
Good morning! On today's front cover, we have Zidane. And Zidane finally has his settled starting team. pic.twitter.com/eL96EhCEAS— AS English (@English_AS) November 1, 2019
Valverde becoming midfield fixture
In midfield, a generational handover seems to be taking place before our eyes: Luka Modric out, Valverde in. Zidane has always been a fan of Valverde's and, having already made his faith in the midfielder plain last term, he is this season doubling down on his commitment to bringing him through. The 21-year-old's work rate and tactical discipline are what Zidane most values. "If he's playing, then there's a reason for that," 'Zizou' said this midweek. "He's doing really well. I'm impressed by how strong and quick he is, not to mention brave: if he has to go for a ball, he goes for it with everything he has. In defence and attack."
Against Leganés, Valverde was almost flawless with ball at feet, completing 94% of his passes. With the youngster alongside Casemiro in the midfield, Madrid have the kind of balance that they have been sorely lacking in recent times.
Kroos back to his best
Kroos is back, and Madrid are benefiting greatly from the midfielder's return to form. Against Leganés, he was excellent on the ball, registering a 94% pass-completion rate, and dangerous in attack, getting in two shots and scoring Los Blancos' second with one of them. With three goals already to his name, he is well on course to surpass his highest haul in a single season at Madrid: five, in 2017/18.
On top of that, the German is putting a real shift in when it comes to his defensive duties, having amassed 78 ball recoveries (one every 13 minutes) so far this campaign.
Rodrygo earning his place in the side
Gareth Bale started the season looking sharp in attack and committed in defence, and offering the impression that this could be a year of redemption for him. However, all that early optimism has dissipated in the wake of his latest injury (despite Madrid not publicly clarifying the problem, it is thought to be yet another calf strain) and his controversial trip to London, with the club's permission, to meet his agent, Jonathan Barnett.
Bale's absence has opened up a spot on the right that Rodrygo has so far made his own, ahead of Vinicius Júnior, in no small part because of the eye for goal he has demonstrated. In just 133 minutes of LaLiga football, he has already scored twice. With Zidane confirming that Rodrygo's preferred left-wing slot is reserved for Hazard, the 18-year-old can only have strengthened his standing in the coach's eyes by showing he can also perform so well on the opposite flank.
Benzema continuing to impress
Zidane has always had huge faith in Benzema, even when he wasn't repaying it on the field. These days, though, the French striker is justifying every single minute he gets with goals, assists and an overall level of performance that Madrid have come to depend on. Against Leganés, he set up two goals and netted one himself, and jointly leads the LaLiga scoring charts with seven.
Jovic finally among the goals, too
Against Leganés, the goal all Madridistas had been crying out for finally arrived. Indeed, Luka Jovic actually had the ball in the net twice, only for the first of two headers into the corner to be ruled out for offside. Nevertheless, both finishes offered cause for optimism that the Serb can ultimately prove to be the fox in the box that Madrid have paid 60m euros for.
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