They say that when you are down on your luck, you best make your own. Well, if that adage is true we're in for a heck of a season.
Where to start? The first half of the season is over and there is much to look back on. But before we do, I think it's important to look at where we are first.
- First place in La Liga by 6 points
- Into the round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League soon to face Napoli
- 35 games unbeaten
Looking at those three bullets, with no context, one would think it doesn't get much better than that for a team in that position. But the road to this point hasn't exactly been a breeze for Real Madrid. We haven't dominated consistently. We haven't had our starting XI but, what, once? We've either squandered leads for a draw, or been down by a goal or more and had to struggle mightily to salvage a draw or have Captain Amazeballs Ramos come to the rescue in extra time AGAIN.
But even though it's been the struggle, I think the passion, the raw determination to grind and battle is what separates us this season. And when you don't have all the cards in your favor, sometimes you just have to make your own luck.
We've expounded aplenty this season on our woeful injury situation. Just when it looks like one or two players come back, one or two more go down. I think what's really separated us this season from many of the last few is that in spite of major injuries throughout, Zizou has shown unflappable faith in our youngsters and they've delivered mightily. In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a performance from Lucas, Morata, Mariano, Kovatic, Asensio that was anything less than solid to say the least. Pretty much all our big dunder-headed mistakes that gave away goals or turned the tide in games this season came from our veterans.
Needless to say without saying much more, the consistent play from our bench has been a key the first half of this season.
Tactical Mother of Invention/Necessity
Contrary to the haranguing the Zidane gets from this community and others regarding his tactical nous or lack thereof, I think that the first half of this season we've seen a veritable tactical smorgasbord. If Ancelotti was vilified for never ever, ever changing his tactics, Zidane's got to be the opposite in many ways.
Now there are a couple aspects to this, the largest of which has been the ever-changing availability of his squad. Because of this, his hand has been forced to adjust based on position and talent alone. But while there have been a few times where he's gotten his strategery just plain wrong, what we have seen is a willingness to adapt to the opposition and provide something vastly different from one week to the next *cough* Atletico.
Given that Zidane is still not a year in, I view his tactical je ne sais quoi and substitutionary practice the bedrock of a burgeoning playbook of awesome. Perhaps he might have formalized something a little sooner had he a consistent squad to work with, but it at least appears to be heading in the right direction.
The James/Isco +X Factor
All season long we've been watching the James/Isco drama. I think we've once again watched Isco Disco ebb but then flow at just the right times in just the right games in the exact same role he's played for years at this club. He's always right on the edge of regular XI, gets lots of minutes and provides a unique dynamic.
James. Well, what do you say about one of the world's biggest game-changer number 10s with no natural position to play? There has to be at least a couple of reasons he's behind Kovatic, Isco, Asensio, Lucas, wait, who ISN'T he behind? And it will remain to be seen whether he sticks around at the end of the season. But somehow Zidane folds him in when needed and gets better than average performances out of him.
Then there is the X factor of having players versatile enough to play all over the place. How many times has the midfield been shuffled around? Aside from Casemiro when he's healthy, the rest have played in multiple positions. Even the front line has been changed up on regular occasion - not the least of which is Ronaldo moving to the center. But Morata plays center or left wing. Asensio has played left wing or left CM. Isco has played left mid or right wing. Getting solid performances out of the constant change in position is pretty impressive.
Depth of delivery
The final interesting piece to the first half of this season is the balanced delivery in goal scoring. CR7 is naturally up top with 12, but we have an amazing balance in the next tier of goals.
Ramos 5 (Yes, RAMOS with 5)
A true testament to the club willfully making their own luck so far has been the consistent goal scoring amongst so many players. When one player is down, there have been plenty more to pick up the slack.
With 2016 almost over and the second half of the season to go, it could certainly be argued that had we not drawn so many matches or perhaps played with just a little more focus we could be even better off than we are now. But let's face it, with so many injuries, and a coach still looking to solidify his approach, and the sheer determination we've consistently exhibited to forcefully change the outcome of numerous games, I'm feeling awfully good about where we're at.
Here's hoping that we stay injury-free during the Club World Cup and get out full bevy of players fit and available for the second half of the season!