January 3rd 2016. It was the day some Real Madrid fans prayed for … The sacking of Rafael Benitez. In came Los Blancos legend Zinedine Zidane, and the dressing room turned from a dull cauldron to one where kids enter into a candy store and happiness occurs. Since the early days of 2016 until now, Real have only suffered two defeats; the one coming against Wolfsburg in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals last season (a tie they eventually turned around) and the Madrid derby.
Since that defeat at the end of February to Atletico Madrid, Zidane has made sure his side have not lost in La Liga, and a few weekslater , they had a three point gap over Barcelona. Fast forward to this past Sunday, it is a completely different story. Since the draw against Villarreal on September 21, Los Blancos have failed to garner a victory in both La Liga and Champions League football. They are now second in the Championship, same points as Atletico, but the question is, how have Real remained unbeaten for so long being this mediocre?
Starting from the back, Sergio Ramos and the rest of the backline have not been at their best as we saw last season. Injuries aside (with Marcelo being out for the last few weeks), a lack of focus and basic defensive errors have found its way into the side especially in the draws against Borussia Dortmund and Las Palmas. Up front, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale (known as BBC), have not been the threatening front line we have seen previously.
They each have three goals of their own, and injuries to the front three have not helped the situation. But it is in midfield that Los Blancos have suffered deeply. The absence of Casemeiro has hurt the side, and that balance he brought to defence and attack is clearly missing. Without Luka Modric, that box-to-box effect he brings to the side is non-existent which has pushed Zidane to play Toni Kroos much deeper, something which does not come naturally to the German.
So the question is, will this trend continue for Zidane? Last season on the road to European glory, Real were not that great but yet found a way to lift Un Decima at the San Siro. They finished one point behind Barca last season in La Liga, after their rivals had a nine point gap in April. This mediocrity will stop, and with their injured players moving closer to recovery, Zidane will soon have a full squad at his disposal.
BBC will soon find their way into scoring form, and the return of Alvaro Morata will help in attack even if he has not lit the the Bernebeu on fire since his return in July. Zidane has a good selection headache in trying to figure out what he needs to do with regards to Isco and James Rodriguez, how to utilise them in terms of a “number 10”. That all depends on whether Zidane will shift from his pragmatic approach to a more open attacking style.
Zidane can take some positives from this slump … Barca have also dropped points and Real are second only due to an inferior points difference to Atletico, and the same could be said about the Champions League in the group stages so far. Zidane won the European Cup. He is now obliged to win something domestically and with 11 different scorers within the squad so far this season, goals are surely there.
The notion of Real president Florentino Perez is there for all to see. If you do not deliver, you will be shown the door. Zidane will always be a club legend. But status does not always guarantee longevity at a club you are loved.