When Los Blancos dropped a Champions League quarterfinal match last year —a 2-0 loss to Wolfsburg— , who knew that Real Madrid would go on to tie a Spanish record?That record? Reeling off 39 matches where defeat wasn’t an option. Or the fact this was being done with a 'rookie' manager, who had never coached above youth level.
With a win Thursday against Sevilla, Real Madrid could surpass FC Barcelona and be the sole holders of the record for most matches unbeaten in Spain with 40. And currently they’re only one of two European clubs to hold the distinction of remaining unbeaten this season. The other team? TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga.
Here are what I believe to be some of the keys to Real Madrid’s success these past 39 matches.
Rotations, Rotations, Rotations
Zinedine Zidane’s use of the bench and rotations from match to match has been for the most part on point all season. He’s given 900 minutes to 20 players with no one player going over 2,000.
Zidane has been able to use his bench to keep everyone rested and fresh. When you’ve got the likes of Lucas Vazquez, Kovacic, Isco, Morata and more on the bench there’s not that much of a drop off in talent. He has been able to stem the tide of injuries to key players like Bale, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Modric, Toni Kroos and more with an extremely deep and talented bench.
One of these days we’ll see Zidane’s first choice IX.
One thing that has been questioned (by the media) is that why would Zidane dare rest the mighty Ronaldo? Frankly it’s tiring hearing the media explode at the news that Ronaldo has been held out of a match —see: Copa del Rey—.
Here’s the man himself on the subject of resting Cristiano Ronaldo.
“We spoke and the one thing you have to bear in mind is that Cristiano is a truly intelligent player. My idea is to have Cristiano fit throughout the season. When playing 20 games in 70 days, obviously from time to time you have to rest. That is how we both see it. He always wants to play but we discuss things. We both want to win absolutely everything in front of us”.
- Zinedine Zidane, Source.
I’d expect to see more of it as Ronaldo gets older and it’s something that he’s come to grips with in the coming years. That’s not to say we send him to pasture, but let’s face it - he isn’t getting any younger.
Injuries seem to be the theme of the season and Real Madrid’s defense isn’t immune. Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo have been out with injuries. Even with those injuries, Real Madrid has only conceded 14 goals in La Liga. Only Villarreal can boast a better record with 12 goals conceded. Not only are they solid in defensive half but they’ve all been contributing going forward into the attacking half.
Just look at the stacked talent across the back: Marcelo —arguably the best leftback in the game today— , Captain Clutch: Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Nacho, Dani Carvajal and Danilo. As a unit they have had a hand in 18 goals and 15 assists across all competitions.
Goals, goals and more goals
The Spanish media have criticized Real Madrid in the past for too much reliance on the foot of Cristiano Ronaldo. That’s not the case this season, with various injuries and such goals have been coming from all over the pitch. It’s always been a team effort, but the Spanish press love to be salty.
Across all competitions 21 players have put the ball in the back of the net for the club. Of those, 10 players have scored at least twice. CR7 leads the pack with 16 (in all competitions), Karim Benzema has 10, Morata 9 and Bale 7. Imagine what that would be if Bale wasn’t on the shelf.
Seven of the eight defenders on the squad have also rattled the twine. Sergio Ramos leads with five goals, Raphael Varane is second with four.
So it’s not like Real Madrid are lacking goal scorers.
In his short time at the helm, Zizou has brought three out of four trophies to the Spanish capital and it looks like there is no stopping the 44 year-old Frenchman and Real Madrid player. After all the only management experience he had at the time when he was named manager was being an assistant at the senior level and coaching Castilla on the youth side. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for him, but he’s been able to grind out matches and get results and deal with the salty Spanish press.
There was a lot of hand wringing at the beginning on whether or not Zizou was the man for the job, though it wasn’t a surprise that he got it. One thing that didn’t take long was winning over the dressing room. He’s been described as a ‘players’ manager, which has help jell the squad. Meaning less drama than season’s past.
Zizou has shaped the team into a harmonious unit that never say die. Which is one reason they’re currently in their unbeaten run.
Zidane talked with Realmadrid.com about his coaching career so far.
“I fret over things but keep them to myself, apparently I don't show it. I'm 44 years old so I'm still quite young. I have just started coaching, but eventually things will get more complicated. I have been with the first team for one year now and for the moment I can handle it”.
- Zinedine Zidane, Source
Think about it, as a manager he’s only lost 2 matches. That’s an amazing feat for anyone and has help solidify himself as one of the best managers in the world. And at the age of 44 he’s got season’s ahead of him.