REAL MADRID

Real Madrid: Zidane sheds 'selector' tag

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is proving that he's not the tactically unsophisticated coach that he has often been branded as.

Real Madrid: Zidane sheds 'selector' tag
JESUS ALVAREZ ORIHUELA DIARIO AS

A stick regularly used to beat Zinedine Zidane with is the accusation that he is more of a 'selector' than a coach, a hands-off tactical operator whose match strategies are, at best, identikit in nature. However, if there's one thing that Zidane is demonstrating in the period following Los Blancos' three straight Champions League victories, it is that perhaps his tactical nous has been underestimated.

Zidane shows tactical ability with Real Madrid formation change in Valencia win

In Wednesday's 3-1 Spanish Super Cup win over Valencia, indeed, Zidane showed himself to be a coach with no little depth of tactical thinking, modifying the 4-4-2 that he has become comfortable with in recent times and sending his side out in a 4-5-1 that minimised the effects of Karim Benzema's injury absence.

"How is he going to set that side up?" asked a Saudi journalist when Real Madrid's starting XI was announced at the King Abdullah Stadium. The inclusion of so many midfielders certainly raised eyebrows. It was, though, a team in part based on what Zidane has learned along the way.

Real Madrid's players celebrate scoring in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final win over Valencia.

In reality, the 4-5-1 was more of a 4-3-2-1 (also referred to as the 'Christmas tree', given its shape), which he borrowed from Carlo Ancelotti, a coach he assisted during the Italian's stint as Madrid boss. It was a formation used to good effect by 'Carletto' in AC Milan's 2006/07 Champions League win.

Zidane's style initially cramped by Bale, Benzema and Cristiano

When Zidane was first appointed as Madrid coach, his hands were tied by the presence of the 'BBC' front three of Gareth Bale, Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. "They're untouchable," he said (or had to say) in every press conference.

Benzema was, and remains, a certain pick, and Cristiano was the source of all the side's goal-scoring firepower; but once Bale started to struggle, the door opened for Zidane to show his preference for the solidity of the 4-4-2 - a strategy that helped them to Champions League victory in 2017 and 2018.

In November, 'Zizou' surprised Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel by turning to the set-up - complete with the revitalised Isco - in Madrid's impressive display in the sides' 2-2 Champions League draw, and its evolution into a five-man midfield in Jeddah also seems to have caught Valencia coach Albert Celades off guard, no matter how much he claimed it was "a possibility that we had contemplated".

Against Valencia, the sometimes deceptive possession stats really did tell the story of the match, as Madrid enjoyed an overwhelming 61.6% of the ball. They were also full of hunger to win it back, dispossessing Valencia 21 times. Zidane neutralised Dani Parejo in a simple, yet brutally effective manner, making Los Che's playmaker-in-chief spend his time running after Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco.

It was a true team performance from Madrid, thanks to the kind of tactical plan that could well lead them to this new Super Cup. And who knows what else.