Real Madrid: the two sides of Zidane
Los Blancos' French coach Zinedine Zidane surprised a few with his two distinct attacking choices: from Vinicius and Rodrygo to Jovic and Mayoral.
Seventeen players used in the first two games of the season. Zinedine Zidane has laid out all his cards on the table as he looks to gauge the potential of the current Real Madrid squad with which to head into three competitions looking for more glory, and all this while awaiting the returns of Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio.
Zidane’s squad game
Two games - against La Real and Betis - in which the coach has shown two radically different faces: that shown on the pitch and the other that comes from his mouth. "Until 4 October, anything is possible," he insisted, hinting at possible reinforcements before the window closes.
Against Sociedad the Frechman lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with two clear wingers, Vinicius and Rodrygo. Mayoral and Jovic did not even get a run out, despite the game drifting towards its eventual goalless draw. Against Betis, Zidane tried a 4-4-2 with two forwards and no true wingers. For this he made use of both Jovic and Mayoral (the latter coming on part way through the second half), while the two young Brazilians remained seated. Two attacking formations within a period of just a few days that contrasted so much.
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The only real element that served as a link in these two games was Martin Odegaard, who started in both and played ahead of the midfielders. But the Norwegian’s impact of being the new face of the current project has been diluted with him being substituted by the coach. Against Betis he was replaced by Isco at half-time (having made only 23 passes and being partly to blame for William Carvalho's goal) and it felt as thought the team improved in the second 45, eventually completing the comeback.
Four points from the opening six is acceptable, but how will the shape of the team develop over the coming weeks?
For the club
In spite of everything, Real Madrid have insisted that there will be no additions to the squad, even though there is a lot of talk that Jovic and Nacho could be on their way out the exit door. There has also been some confusion from some of these early decisions made by Zidane. The club has insisted that the summer choice to let Reguilón, James, Ceballos and Bale leave was that of the coach. Likewise, the obvious message that he appeared to send by removing Jovic and Mayoral from the opening game - even bringing on Marvin and Arribas at their expense - contrasts with that of the second encounter, where they both played important roles.
Jovic's starting place surprised most commentators, and other than being the one that instigated the Emerson red card, the striker failed to get a shot off at goal in 72 minutes, touching the ball a grand total of 10 times.
From the point of view of the coaching team, the choices have been quite different. The massive rotations are part of Zidane's plan, especially in the early part of the season as they aim to minimise, or avoid completely, players getting injured. Vinicius and Rodrygo will almost certainly return to the XI in Wednesday’s game against Valladolid. But what about longer term?
On the assumption that a new number nine to guarantee goals is not going to arrive, Zidane has two clear solutions. The first is drawing upon the 4-4-2 diamond formation, but utilising Hazard as the supporting striker for Benzema. In this way the Belgian would be freed from any significant defensive duties, and then the playmaker role would be one of either Isco or Odegaard. In the second scenario - and, of course, the switch can be made during a game if required - is to use the 4-3-3, with Hazard and Asensio flanking Benzema. This clearly puts more onus on those two creative players to get back and support.
It’s too early to consider the goal return that this squad can provide, and certainly from the two such contrasting games to date, but once Zidane has found more stability with his players, there are certainly options in the final third.