Real Madrid: Rodrygo, Hazard, Kroos, Valverde lead revival
Since the 3-0 drubbing Real Madrid suffered at the hands of PSG on 18 September Zinedine Zidane has managed to steady the Bernabéu ship.
Real Sociedad can attest to Real Madrid’s new-found resilience after scoring inside two minutes at the Bernabéu last Saturday and playing well throughout the game only to come away on the wrong end of a 3-1 score line. Since being blown away by PSG in the Parc des Princes two months ago, Zinedine Zidane’s side have lost only once, away at Mallorca, and since that defeat they have won five and drawn one, scoring 19 and conceding just once. The Frenchman has found a formula that works with five key ingredients but it will be put to the stiffest of tests when Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, Ángel di María, Mauro Icardi and Edinson Cavani roll into the Spanish capital on Tuesday night.
Hazard duking it after slow start
After recovering from a hamstring injury and admitting in an interview with L’Equipe that he was overweight when he arrived at Real Madrid, Eden Hazard has improved considerably. Despite making only seven starts in LaLiga, the Belgian has attempted only two fewer dribbles than Leo Messi (34 to 36) and has become the attacking threat that he was at Chelsea. The goals have yet to materialize but as Sociedad right back Joseba Zaldúa can confirm, it is now a hazard to have the winger running at you for 90 minutes. The assist count is gradually rising and it probably not a coincidence that Hazard was absent for the Mallorca defeat.
One of the lowest ebbs of the season so far for Real Madrid was the 2-2 draw against Club Brugge – a score that actually flatters Zidane’s side. Thibaut Courtois had a torrid 45 minutes against the Belgians but has recovered to break Keylor Navas’ unbeaten record for the club. Since conceding in the 1-0 defeat in Mallorca, Courtois went 535 minutes without picking the ball out of his net, passing the current PSG keeper’s best run. It could have been 88 minutes longer after Saturday were it not for Sergio Ramos’ suicidal back pass but Courtois cannot be faulted for Willian José’s strike. The Belgian stopper is back in form and that confidence will be handy when he faces the full force of PSG’s front line.
Kroos and Modric back to their best
The German has rediscovered his scoring touch, providing the only goal of the game against Galatasaray when Real were in desperate need of a result and adding three assists so far this season. Modric, who had hardly been used by Zidane this season due to injury and the emergence of Fede Valverde - and who was far from best when he was called upon earlier in the campaign - has enjoyed a renaissance in three consecutive starts capped by a man of the match performance against La Real that included a goal and both assists, the first time in 312 games for Madrid that he has posted that particular hat-trick. Kroos will be fresh for PSG after being rested against Sociedad and what was a problem for Zidane, finding a reliable midfield three, has become a dilemma of a different sort as he has to decide who to leave out in his favoured 4-3-3 formation with Casemiro, Valverde, Kroos and Modric all warranting a place on current form.
Rodrygo, Valverde and the exuberance of youth
Another factor in Real’s rise from the ashes has been the unexpected performance levels of Rodrygo and Fede Valverde. The Brazilian was expected to spend most of the season with Castilla but has now carved out a place in the XI ahead of Gareth Bale, Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vázquez while the Uruguyan was retained initially as a squad player but has been Zidane’s ninth most-used player in 2019-20. The range of options now available to Zidane was unforeseen but is a huge boost to the Frenchman when it comes to risk-free squad rotation.
Mendy offering Marcelo competition
For several seasons now Marcelo has not really had any threat to his position in the starting XI: Sergio Reguilón briefly eyed the Brazilian’s throne but has been loaned out and more often than not in Marcelo’s absence either Nacho has filled in or Zidane has been forced into playing someone out of position. Mendy, who missed five Liga games though injury and was on the bench for three, has still played just 38 minutes fewer than Marcelo in all competitions and was one of Real’s stand-out performers against Sociedad. Finally, Madrid have found what Marcelo has not been looking for.