Two years back when Real Madrid stalwarts — Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane — left the club, it spelled doom for the La Liga giant. From being the champions of Europe three successive times, Real were knocked out of UEFA Champions League in the last-16 and finished 19 points behind Barcelona in the 2018/19 season.
Both Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari tried to keep the boat afloat but after their failed attempts, club president Florentino Perez managed to right the wrongs by bringing Zidane as the manager towards the end of the season. The Frenchman’s return was welcomed with skepticism, with questions on whether he would be able to manage a team full of stars, without the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Zidane proved he is the more than capable, both as a player and as a coach, with his skills to manage a team of star egos. A well-rotated squad throughout the 2019/20 season helped him bring Real back to where they were before he had left and it took him a little more than a year to work his magic.
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) July 17, 2020
After defeating Villarreal 2-1 at home on Thursday, Zidane added his 11th trophy as manager of Real Madrid. Only the legendary Miguel Munoz has won more titles in the club’s history, with 14. “The Champions League is the Champions League, but La Liga makes me happier, because La Liga is what it’s all about,” Zidane told Movistar.
But what were the other factors that facilitated Zidane to win his second La Liga title as a manager?
Consistency after pandemic break
After Real Madrid’s poor pre-season show which included a 7-3 derby loss and injuries to their €100 million signing, Eden Hazard, the club had a lacklustre start to the season. Still, when the league was postponed indefinitely in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were second in the table with 56 points from 27 matches.
It can be argued that the break could not have come at a better time for Los Blancos. They were showing signs of weakness and concern, getting kicked out of Copa del Rey, losing at home to Manchester City in the last-16 of the Champions League, and dropping points in league games.
When La Liga resumed after a break of three months on June 11, Real started the season with renewed spirit. Even though the newly-appointed champions can’t boast of strong, big-margin wins, Zidane’s men churned out consistent performances maintaining a 10-match winning run to clinch the title with one game to spare.
Barcelona, on the other hand, have had a hard time getting back to form after the break. Their 2-1 defeat to Osasuna at home on Thursday ended their 42-game unbeaten run at Camp Nou in the league. Apart from the latest defeat, the Catalan club have suffered three draws since the restart, collecting a total of 79 points after 37 matches, their lowest tally at this stage of the season since 2007-08 (64), when they finished third.
Speaking after the match, the ‘Messiah’ Lionel Messi accepted that Real Madrid deserved to win the title, expressing disappointment at their own performances. “We didn’t expect or want it to end in this way, but it’s a reflection of our season,” Messi told Movistar. “[We’ve been] an inconsistent, weak team that has been beaten in intensity and desire.”
“Madrid did what they had to do. They haven’t lost a game since the restart, which deserves credit, but we have helped them by dropping points we should not have dropped.” Messi could not have put it better, hinting at a trophy-less season if they did not pull their socks up before hosting Napoli in Champions League last-16 second-leg.
While many were expecting a last-day league decider, Barcelona’s loss ensured that Madrid didn’t even have to beat Villarreal to seal the title.
Experienced leaders on the pitch
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) July 17, 2020
In the absence of their talismanic forward Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid suffered a slump last year. But Sergio Ramos took it on himself to become the glue to hold the team together and excelled with solid, responsible performances. On the other hand, other veterans like Karim Benzema and Luka Modric upped the ante with the ball at their feet.
With Ramos leading from the back, Madrid conceded only four goals in the last ten matches. The 34-year-old even showcased his attacking skills this season scoring 10 goals, half of which have come in the last ten matches. Up in front, Benzema proved he can be trusted to carry Madrid’s attack with 21 goals and 8 assists in the league this season. Even on Thursday, it was the 32-year old’s brace that proved to be vital in downing the opposition.
A promising future
The role of Gareth Bale continues to be a big question for Real Madrid as recently he has given the impression that he has given up on the club, with gestures from the bench wherein he is pretending to fall asleep or laughing at the manager’s decisions. Similarly, James Rodriguez has also not found many opportunities under Zidane. The Colombian has not featured in any of the last seven matches.
However, under Zidane, the future of Madrid looks quite promising with the likes of Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo Goes, Federico Valverde, Ferland Mendy, and Eder Militao grabbing the eye every time they are given the chance to showcase their skills.
Although the title win for Real Madrid is bittersweet with the players lifting the trophy at an empty Alfredo di Stefano Stadium, their training ground, while the Santiago Bernabeu undergoes renovation work, the victory will only work as a confidence boost when they take on Manchester City in the Champions League last-16 second leg next month.
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