Three games into anyone’s tenure is a small sample size. Yet it is a sufficient enough sample to start drawing some conclusions about style of play and approach to the game. That has been the case with Zinedine Zidane’s start to his Real Madrid career where the results have been solid overall, but there have been some interesting questions to be fully aware of.
The results thus far have included a 5-1 win over Sporting Gijon, a 5-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna and a 1-1 draw at Real Betis.
Since Zidane took over, Madrid’s possession game has increased with the team averaging 809 touches per game and allowing the opposition just 38 percent of the time on the ball. On the year Madrid has averaged 56 percent of the possession but under Zidane it has been a whopping 62 percent possession.
This has led to increased shots at goal and fewer shots against. The team has averaged 19.333 shots per game and remains the top squad at taking shots in the entire Spanish League. On the season, Madrid has averaged 11.4 shots against per game, but under Zidane the side has limited that to 10.3. The passing success rate has also been increased, but this has a lot to do with the fact that the team is passing a lot more than it was under Rafa Benitez and is relying less on low percentage crosses.
The remaining numbers have more or less remained close to the mean for the season, emphasizing that the transition has been a smooth one for the team as a whole.
The style of play has been far more freed up with crossing (a constant last ditch resort under the uncreative Benitez) has been diminished somewhat under Zidane. The passing is short and far more frenzied. The pressing is of the intense variety and the penetration into the box is far more constant.
Some players have thrived under Zidane, while others have faltered greatly.
Toni Kroos is finally looking like the player that was so successful under Carlo Ancelotti in 2014-15. His passing is crisp and he seems far more confident about pushing forward and dropping deep defensively. The main reason for this? A midfield trio that can rely on one another. The addition of Isco into the middle of the pitch has given Kroos and Luka Modric the freedom they need to create forward. The rotation between these three has been as good as it gets thus far.
Dani Carvajal has also looked fantastic under Zidane, his offensive abilities allowed to flourish; Danilo, by contrast, looked lost in his first game under Danilo, proving to be the goat on Real Betis’ lone goal.
Offensively Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have continued to look outstanding moving forward with both players rotating brilliantly around the pitch. Benzema is having an offensive year to envy with 17 goals in La Liga thus far and Bale looks like he could hit 30 goals in all competitions if he remains healthy. Part of that is his freedom to roam from one wing to the other without being trapped on one side the entire time.
Two players however have struggled under Zidane. The first is Cristiano Ronaldo and the second is James Rodriguez. Ronaldo has looked far more comfortable under Zidane, the rotation freeing him up for scoring chances. That said, he looked rather uninvolved in the latest game with Betis, faltering on big scoring chances and simply lacking the dynamism in attack. Bale’s absence makes him easier to defend and it is clear that without both BBC players on the pitch, Ronaldo’s effectiveness becomes lessened because of the diminished space.
Rodriguez looked better in the final stages against Betis, but has struggled to truly showcase himself as the unstoppable force he was under Ancelotti. He may need some time to adjust to playing on the wings and rotating with Ronaldo and Benzema for the time being.