Zidane, 11 months on
Zidane announced that there would be changes in his second stint as Real Madrid coach and that is exactly how it has turned out.
Tonight's game against Celta will be a special one for Zidane. It is exactly 11 months since he returned to the Real Madrid job. Almost one year on, he has managed to turn the fortunes around of a team who looked lost without him. Zizou decided not to continue in the coaching post after the team won their third consecutive Champions League, leaving them without their mentor. Zidane returned to take the reins in the same week when Madrid saw their chances of winning the Copa del Rey, Liga and Champions League ebb away.
Zidane returned to the bench for the last 11 league games of 2018/19, games which, along with the pre-season, would serve as an audition to determine which players would fit into his new project. In May last year, he announced that there would be changes during his second spell as coach. Those changes have been introduced slowly, while the training methodology has also evolved (with a new fitness trainer, Grégory Dupont); changes to the team's system and substitutions policy (in the derby, two experienced players Kroos and Isco made way for Vinicius and Lucas Vázquez), increased protection around the squad (Zidane fiercely defends all of his players) and above all, the day-to-day of the squad (iron fist in a velvet glove: getting the best from players whose form had dropped - Isco, Vinicius, Courtois...). Eleven months down the line, Zidane has constructed a strong. balanced side.
- Goalkeeping position. One of Zidane's first decisions when he returned was to keep Keylor as the team's first choice ahead of Courtois. Keylor played in eight of those 11 final games of the season and Courtois, just four. For Zizou, the transition from one keeper to another wasn't easy but in the end, he decided on Courtois. The Belgian keeper was heavily criticised for his initial performances but Zizou continued to support him. The situation changed completely after the 1-0 defeat at Mallorca, with the hosts scoring from their only attempt on target during the whole game. After that, the defence was immediately tightened up and the results were clear to see in the following game against Galatasaray. Since then, everything has been positive: Courtois has kept 12 cleans sheets in 18 games. He also helped the team snatch a point at Valencia - coming upfield for a corner, his header found Benzema who equalised. Together with Varane and Ramos in central defence, he has been one of the reasons why Madrid have gone 21 games without defeat.
- Defence. Zidane has placed his faith in the players who helped him win 11 trophies during his time as coach. His favoured back four is: Carvajal, Varane, Ramos and… Mendy. The French left-back, who was signed on Zizou's express wishes, has relegated Marcelo to the subs' bench.
- Midfield. An area which has been working extremely well. Casemiro, the only player in the squad who Zidane doesn't have an alternative for, is the one who holds it all together for Madrid. Modric has a new spring in his step while Kroos is the one who conducts play between lines. The faith which Zidane has shown Isco is having a positive effect on his game - to a point where he could earn a call-up for the national team. But the biggest surprise has been Fede Valverde's explosive adaptation to the team - he's a key piece in Zidane's rebuilding programme and now, it's unusual not to see him in the starting line-up.
- Attack. Benzema remains the reference point and is still in incredible form; complementing Karim are new incorporations Vinicius and Rodrygo, Jovic is gradually settling in, Lucas Vázquez has returned to fill in on the right flank and Hazard is back from injury - and Asensio is due back in just a few weeks... Then there's Bale who Zidane wants back at his best for the run-in to the end of the campaign. The Welsh forward seems to have accepted that he won't start every game. Now it's down to him to demonstrate to Zizou the quality he shows at international level...
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