As La Liga gears up for a return to normalcy, we equip you with an in-depth view of everything about Real Madrid and their season so far.
They are a giant of the game. Anyone who knows about football is likely to know who Real Madrid are. After all, who does not recognise the famous white shirt that the club’s players have donned all through their history.
One of the most decorated sides in the world, Los Blancos have been hosts to some of the best known players in the history of the game over the years and have won nearly 100 trophies since their inception.
A club that has often rewritten history, the Merengues have won a record 33 La Liga titles and have been European champions 13 times (for context, no other club has won the Champions League more than 7 times). Real Madrid have also been recognised as the FIFA Club of the 20th Century.
Bitter rivals Barcelona have dominated the headlines more than them since the turn of the century, but that does not seem to have done anything to affect the popularity of the Spanish capital club. Of course, the legendary and unprecedented Champions League three-peat at the tail end of the 2010s helped too.
Real Madrid are also one of those clubs that have never been too far away from controversy. Whether it’s the infamous saga leading up to their acquisition of Alfredo Di Stefano or the conduct of a section of their fans inside the Santiago Bernabeu, they have invariably managed to find themselves in the eye of the storm.
Of late, though, they have managed to distance themselves from any such rows, with Zinedine Zidane instead focusing on getting the rebuilding of his squad right. The results so far have been mixed, but the good news is Real Madrid are back in contention for the La Liga title after a season in the wilderness (by their standards – they finished third last term).
Real Madrid’s 2019/20 Season So Far
After a tumultuous 2018/19 season, there was no choice but to start 2019/20 on a strong note. The squad might have been in transition, but drastic improvements still had to be made. In fairness, there was no way but up for Real Madrid, especially after the return of Zinedine Zidane.
Los Blancos kicked off their campaign on a solid note, beating Celta Vigo 3-1 to end Matchday 1 on top of the table. Since then, they have been trading the top spot in the La Liga standings with Barcelona, with both the clubs eerily matching each other’s results on a weekly basis.
The first quarter of the season, though, was riddled with inconsistencies, with Zidane’s charges struggling to stitch together a run of wins. Failing to win the first two games in the Champions League – a competition Real Madrid have revelled in under Zidane – only added that extra bit of pressure.
Towards the end of October, however, a switch seemed to have been flipped, and Real Madrid did not lose another game till February. This run of results helped them remain within touching distance of Barcelona while also winning the Supercopa de Espana, where they beat local rivals Atletico Madrid on penalties in the final.
However, their form took a nosedive before football was halted due to the outbreak of COVID-19, as Real Madrid failed to win four of their last five games. Fortunately for Zidane & co. the only game they did win was the second El Clasico of the season, a result which has helped them be just two points behind the reigning Spanish champions.
But, that is where the good news stops, as far as their results and participation in other competitions is concerned. A 2-1 loss at home to Manchester City has left their Champions League hopes dangling by a thread, while Real Sociedad knocked them out of the Copa del Rey. For now, La Liga remains their most realistic route to winning a major silverware this term.
The Manager: Zinedine Zidane
There aren’t many footballing personalities who can boast of being extremely successful both as a player and as a manager. Zinedine Zidane is one of those rare individuals who have set records and won several trophies both in their playing as well as coaching days.
A bonafide legend for both Real Madrid and the French national side, Zidane has shown impressive tactical acumen to carve a place for himself in the Spanish giants’ history, this time as a manager. His first spell as the Real Madrid manager will be known for the historic run of winning the UEFA Champions League in each of the seasons he oversaw.
A near-one-season hiatus followed before the Frenchman returned to the helm at the Santiago Bernabeu after both Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari had failed to steady the ship after his shock departure. Zidane’s second project as the Real Madrid boss has not quite been as resounding a success as his first stint was.
To be fair to him, he set the bar too high, not just for himself but for anybody who was to follow that period. Nevertheless, Zidane has taken to the job of overhauling the squad with strong purpose and astuteness. Interestingly, Real Madrid are the only club he has ever coached, first as the manager of the Castilla side before stepping into the cauldron that is the Bernabeu, as the first-team boss.
Tactics & Style of Play
Much of the credit on the field during Zinedine Zidane’s first stint in-charge of Real Madrid was attributed to the excellence of Cristiano Ronaldo. The living legend was indeed phenomenal in the final third in each of the three seasons wherein Real Madrid dominated Europe.
Since Zidane’s return, the spotlight has deservedly been on the midfield. It was not like Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro were not praised for their contributions last time out, but the spotlight constantly remained on Ronaldo. This time around, though, it has become clear just how important the engine room is for Real under Zidane.
The Frenchman usually lines his side up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Casemiro and Kroos being the mainstays in the middle of the park. Modric and Federico Valverde have been rotated in the third slot over the course of the season.
Casemiro plays the Anchor Man role, sitting in front of the backline, while Kroos is the deep lying playmaker. As for the third midfielder, Modric/Valverde are deployed in an 8/10 hybrid role, with Zidane allowing whoever starts in the role to take up more advanced positions and press high up the pitch. Valverde also has the ability to play as the deepest of the three midfielders, in case Casemiro is unavailable.
Upfront, interchangeability is key for Real Madrid, with the striker, who is usually Karim Benzema, either dropping deep or moving out wide at times to allow the wingers more time and space in the central areas. Creating overloads in the final third of the pitch is also crucial to Real Madrid’s play, enabled by the aforementioned role of the third midfielder, as well as the full-backs.
The full-backs are given the license to bomb forward and look for cross-field passing opportunities. With the three midfielders covering the space in behind them, the full-backs have more freedom to express themselves going forward.
However, one particular area where Zidane has notably improved during his time outside the game is his team’s outlook off the ball. Counterpressing is now the name of the game for Los Blancos as players in the final third aggressively attack the opposition, hoping to either snatch the ball back right away high up the pitch or force a long ball.
The rest of the players then pick their marker to make things difficult for the opposing team to build play up and breach their defence thanks to the absence of an outlet. It is, therefore, no wonder that Real Madrid boast the best defence in La Liga, which in turn has helped them edge out their opponents in some of the tighter games. All in all, Zidane’s tactics are a recipe for success, injury issues permitting.
The 2018/19 season saw Real Madrid struggle to no end after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. Gareth Bale’s struggles with fitness persisted and while Karim Benzema, who has once again been Los Blancos’ top scorer in the current campaign, burst out of Ronaldo’s shadow, there was still a huge missing link in attack.
This void was set to be filled by the arrival of Eden Hazard, who finally made his way to the Bernabeu after teasing a transfer for over a year. However, in anti-climactic fashion, the former Chelsea talisman has been a non-factor for large parts of the season due to a frustratingly bad luck with injuries.
Bale, meanwhile, remains on the periphery, with Zidane not really fancying the Welshman. That he unfurled the infamous “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order” banner in the early stages of the season has only made matters worse for him, at least as far as the fans are concerned.
With both Bale and Hazard out on the sidelines for a major chunk of the season, another Brazilian wonderkid has carved out a place for himself in the squad this season. Like Vinicius Jr. last term, Rodrygo Goes has made waves with some scintillating performances, with Vinicius coming to the fore in the second half of the season as well.
But, Luka Jovic, a big-money summer signing, has not managed to impress his boss a great deal and has been a bit-part player for Real Madrid so far this season. Then there is the Zidane’s trusted lieutenant Lucas Vazquez, who has once again been a useful squad player, while Marco Asensio has not featured yet this season due to a long-term injury.
In midfield, stalwarts like Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Luka Modric and Federico Valverde hold the fort, with Isco and James Rodriguez being backup options. Valverde, in particular, has been extremely impressive this season and looks to be one for the future for Real Madrid.
Two new defenders joined Real Madrid as well last summer, as Ferland Mendy and Eder Militao arrived at the Bernabeu. Mendy seems to be the long-term successor for Marcelo, who has found a second wind this season in Zidane’s familiar system.
Militao has not been a regular yet, but he has still managed to be a solid customer when given an opportunity. At the heart of the defence, Raphael Varane has been enjoying his best season yet in the white of Real Madrid, but captain Sergio Ramos has blown hot and cold.
Dani Carvajal, too, has been inconsistent and it looks like the time is perfect for Achraf Hakimi to return and make the right-back slot his own. Finally, Thibaut Courtois has been in resurgent mood this season, re-establishing himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. No keeper has more clean sheets in La Liga than Courtois (12) and the Zamora trophy might be his this term.
Marquee Player: Casemiro
Karim Benzema has been relied upon to do the bulk of the goalscoring. Eden Hazard is the big name player in the squad, while captain Sergio Ramos is not far away from the spotlight. Even in midfield, both Toni Kroos and Luka Modric get talked about more. But, there is no player who is more important for Real Madrid than Casemiro.
One of those players who was in his elements even as the Merengues were all over the place last season, Casemiro has only improved further this term. Still the rock in front of the defence, the Brazilian international has stunning numbers to boast of.
The 28-year-old has made more tackles per game (3.3 vs 3 last season) and has already completed more interceptions this season (53, 2.1 per game) than he did in the entirety of last season (41, 1.4 per game). But, what has been more pleasing about his progress in the current campaign is his output with the ball at his feet.
No longer is Casemiro a player who is a liability when he has to pick out a teammate. Not only is he completing more passes per game (60.8 this season vs 55.8 last season), but he has also been spraying more accurate long balls than ever before in his career. A haul of 3 goals and 2 assists in the league has also been vital for Real Madrid, scoring the match-winning goals against Sevilla and Levante.
A more well-rounded player now, Casemiro is perhaps the best defensive midfielder in the world at present and the most vital of cogs in Zidane’s side. How well he performs when the season restarts will hold the key for Real Madrid, as they aim to return to the summit of Spanish football.
One For The Future: Reinier Jesus
Over the last few years, Real Madrid have made it a habit to primarily recruit young players, with a smattering of experienced heads being brought in to keep the ship steady. This outlook of signing promising talents has seen Los Blancos sign players of two nationalities more than any other – Spanish and Brazilian.
In fact, in recent years, the Merengues have made it a habit to aggressively look for prospects in South America, with the arrival of Juni Calafat completely revamping their scouting network. As a result, the likes of Rodrygo Goes and Vinicius Jr. have made their way to the Santiago Bernabeu, with both players impressing a great deal despite still being in their teens.
In fact, Real Madrid have had a rich history of players from Brazil, with the latest prodigy from the country to be held in high regard in the Spanish capital being Reinier Jesus. Signed from Flamengo in the January transfer window, Reinier has already set the stage alight for Real Madrid Castilla.
A player who has drawn comparisons with Kaka must be one promising talent. What makes Reinier stand out from the other Real Madrid prospects is his technical abilities and creative prowess. With Luka Modric at the tail end of his career, Reinier seems to be one of the players who could replace the Croatian legend, though he might have to battle for his place in the side with Martin Odegaard.
Having said that, it looks like Reinier may have made an impression on Zidane mere months after joining Real Madrid, with reports claiming that he has been a part of first-team training ahead of La Liga’s return this month. Remember the name, you might be hearing a lot more of him in the months and years to come.
The 2019/20 La Liga title race has been one for the ages, be it due to the inconsistent nature of both Real Madrid and Barcelona or some other reason. The fight for the Spanish top-flight supremacy looks to be going right down the wire.
Real Madrid, though, will need to rediscover their form between late October and early February if they are to keep the pressure on their fierce rivals. The fact that a fit-again Eden Hazard will be at Zinedine Zidane’s disposal could be a game changer for Los Blancos.
What might also give Real Madrid the edge for much of the remainder of the campaign is the change in their home venue as they will host their remaining games at their training arena – the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, home to the Castilla side – instead of the Bernabeu, which is being renovated at the moment.
The big games against Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are already out of the way, but plenty of tricky fixtures remain before the curtains drop on the 2019/20 season. The only way back to the summit of Spanish football will be through consistency; Zidane does have the resources at his disposal to make it happen.