As a result of Real's recruiting policy which means signing players that offer both marketability and talent, head-coach Zinedine Zidane has ended up with an adaptable and multi-faceted group of players. Finally, Madrid has addressed one of the three major needs for the team (back-up ST, CM, and back-up LB) by acquiring Spanish striker Alvaro Morata and the upcoming campaign appears to be one of rotation and flexibility.
Now when Zidane first took over, his main priority was to steady the ship that ex-manager Rafa Benitez had rocked. Because he's earned the respect of the players, it's time to see just how good of a manager Zizou REALLY is. He's tried different tactics including deploying James as a false nine, Ronaldo as a center-forward, and Kroos as a deep-lying play-maker (DLP). Armed with some of the best midfielders and forwards in the game, the pressure is on his shoulders to make sure he makes the appropriate sporting decisions, keeping everyone firing and content.
Here are some of the variations Zidane has at his disposal:
1) 4-3-3 with Kroos as DLP, Isco on, Case off
The Manchester City semi-final draw is most likely the best piece of evidence to show just how good Toni Kroos can be as a deep-lying playmaker. Though he's not a Xabi Alonso, his eye for a deft pass can carve open even the most stubborn and resolute defenses. This amazing depth that the German international possesses can be utilized in games where Madrid are expected to dominate possession. One thing I despise is useless retention, i.e., lateral passing lacking real penetration. The 26-year-old makes use of his passes and there's an element of control when he's on the pitch, something that Casemiro can leave you wanting.
Assuming Kroos comes in to replace Casemiro in the center of the park in games where his defensive prowess isn't needed as much, this means Isco can come in to torment defenses with his unpredictability and knack for linking well with Marcelo and company. In the end, the rotation keeps the opposition guessing, Isco motivated, and Casemiro fresh. The downside is that the other mid-fielders in Real's squad may question their future at the club.
2) 4-3-3 with Casemiro as the mid-field enforcer, magical Kroos and Modric
This midfield line-up shouldn't surprise anyone. This was the safest and most pragmatic trio Zidane used during his quest to La Undecima in which Real were patiently waiting to strike with the B-B-C, Modric and Kroos attempting to create opportunities, and Casemiro making crunching tackles to fill any voids.
This line up is best suited to face possession-based teams like Barcelona and Bayern Munich as Madrid can take advantage of sloppy defenses as they tend to venture forward, at times carelessly, to stretch the opposition. Though it's not the most critically acclaimed style of football, it's effectiveness is indubitable. If things aren't going in Real's favor, they can look to add Isco, Lucas, Morata, and others into the game to shake things up. This will take incredible man-management skills as Real's other mid-fielders James, Jese, and Kovacic may feel unimportant or overlooked.
3) 4-4-2 with James and Isco on the wings, Kroos and Modric in the center
I wish this line up was used more during the 15-16 season. Under Carlo Ancelotti's reign, he was able to get the best out of both Isco and James on the pitch. In a 4-4-2, Isco and James were dangerous on the wings offering totally different dynamics. James has a powerful left foot, vision, and is a dead-ball specialist who's scary on a counter attack. Isco can probe and ask questions of defenses, spark a counter, and some believe this is a role in which he thrives as he highlighted during his Malaga days.
Personally this line-up strikes a happy median of purposeful possession and ruthless counter-attack. However this means unsettling the B-B-C trident which we all know is something that is uncharacteristic for Los Blancos at this point. In addition, Madrid's mid-field may feel a little lightweight without a true defensive-minded player like Casemiro, which suggests Los Galacticos would need to make sure they are organized without the ball. Regardless, the benefits of this tactical structure shouldn't be overlooked and could be valuable if Zidane finds himself with Bale or Benzema injured simultaneously (which is probable given what happened this season) using Ronaldo and Morata as a front line. Inverted wingers like Lucas and Jese however will likely be omitted.
4) Morata in, Benzema off (to rest or due to injury)
It's naive to think Benzema will be fit all season. Thankfully Madrid has cover for Benzema assuming The Royal Whites do not plan to offload Morata once again. Though I'm not his biggest fan, Real have suffered during the times Benzema has been out. As dangerous as CR7 can be when in form, he's not a natural number nine and quickly can grow frustrated if the game is not panning out his way. Morata has proven that he can perform in the big games if his services are required and the inverted wingers shouldn't be aimless as long as they can work off of a focal point in the center-forward position.