Zinedine Zidane redefines his Real Madrid playbook

Los Blancos' French manager appears to have changed his policy on squad rotations and has found a key group of soldiers to take on the 2019/20 battle.

El entrenador del Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane, da instrucciones a Casemiro y Kroos en el partido de Champions contra el Galatasaray en el Bernabéu.

Rotations to the Real Madrid line-up have not been appearing nearly as much in the pages of Zinedine Zidane's notepad this season. A firm group of seven of the 25 squad players (removing long-term absentee Marco Asensio) that the French manager has available to him, have taken the clear focus of pitch time in the opening 16 official matches. There’s a dozen sharing the minute crumbs, while Mariano Díaz is yet to find his place at all. And some say Zidane has got it right all along.

Zidane’s new Madrid consistency

The established seven have played more than 80% of the 1,440 minutes possible and all of them have exceeded the 1,000-mark. In order they are Casemiro (1,380), Sergio Ramos (1,320), Karim Benzema (1,304), Raphael Varane (1,260), Thibaut Courtois (1,215), Dani Carvajal (1,170) and Toni Kroos (1,168). It is clear from these numbers that both the captain and the Brazilian midfielder have barely rested between the start of the campaign and November. Casemiro has started every game, missing just a half hour from both the Levante and Galatasaray (second leg) games. Ramos was also taken off for the final 30 minutes against the Granotas in order to test the Varane-Militao central pairing ahead of the PSG clash, the Champions League fixture that he was to miss through suspension.

Share of minutes by Zidane up to November break.

Being the core players sits Eden Hazard, the man expected to take Los Blancos to another level after a bumper summer transfer. With 824 minutes in the bag, the Belgian has played in 57.2% of the potential time available, although when the initial three games are taken away due to him recovering from injury, it looks a much more satisfactory 70%. Behind Hazard, there is not another player to have featured in 50% of the overall minutes, although Marcelo, Fede Valverde and Gareth Bale (the latter not expected to see much more action) complete an eleven of those who have exceeded 40%. 'Plan Isco' is a separate issue.

This relatively steady ship contrasts with the previous seasons with Zidane at the Madrid helm. In those two campaigns he would regularly close the doors to some of the more established names and distribute minutes generously among the middle ranks. At the November international break of both those seasons (excluding the Copa del Rey opener), only two players had exceeded 80% of the available minutes.

In the 2017-18 season (with 23 players in the squad) up to 13 had starred in at least half of the total minutes played, five more than the eight who have reached it today. In 2016-17 (also with 23), 17 players had played in more than a third of the pitch time possible, compared to just 13 this season.