A return to La Liga with an away trip to Balaidos where Madrid have now only won once in their last four attempts. Los Blancos were without Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, and Karim Benzema through injuries and suspensions. Zidane rolled out the his preferred eleven, utilizing the diamond system once again. Gareth Bale was Madrid’s saving grace, he provided the dynamism that Madrid’s forward line had been lacking and was active and involved throughout. Unfortunately, players like Kroos, Casemiro, and Marcelo had games to forget.
Keylor Navas—6.5: Navas had a roller-coaster ride of a game. Was left exposed by his defense for the first goal and Wass was able to chip the Costa Rican with ease. Late in the second half, Aspas is slipped through and Keylor brings him down. The ensuing penalty was saved and Keylor went from zero to hero in seconds. His penalty save would not be enough, Maxi Gomez was left free inside the six to bury home a late equalizer—nothing Keylor could do to stop Celta’s second.
Achraf —3: The youngster struggled against Sisto all evening and offered little in attack. Unlike Marcelo, he receives support from Modric and occasionally Isco on defensive duties to help mask some of his flaws. His first touch was heavy on too many occasions, he lacked conviction in the final third, and his crossing was once again very poor. The diamond system relies on full backs and neither performed at the level required today.
Varane—6.5: The best of the back four, as has been the case all year. Varane is gradually becoming a leader of this team and reads the game very well. He breaks defensive lines and creates passing opportunities with his ability dribble forward from the back.
Nacho—6: The former youth product was exposed by the system and the lack of communication between key cogs like Kroos, Marcelo, and Casemiro rather than his own abilities. When called upon, he dealt with what he had to, but the back line was stretched thin due to Marcelo’s attacking forays and the lack of cover provided by Casemiro and Kroos.
Marcelo—2.5: One of the Brazilians worst performances of the season. The diamond system demands that the fullback be able to cover an entire flank, with Casemiro filling into the back three as both fullbacks fly forward. Marcelo flew forward, but had no cover behind him leaving huge gaping wholes for Celta to attack on transition. Kroos couldn’t be bothered to track back tonight and Casemiro was stretched all across the midfield rather than slipping himself into a back three—tactics, communication, and form have to be perfect for the diamond to work. Marcelo’s 1v1 defending has been off all season and Aspas had his way with him. Nearly gave away a penalty in the dying minutes for Vigo to steal a victory.
Casemiro—4: Casemiro is a fixture in the line-up because he is meant to provide balance. That balance has been absent for the opening 6 months of this season and it may be time for Zidane to change personnel and tweak the system. Casemiro may well be a casualty, at least for some La Liga games. Slow to get the ball off his feet and did not provide the necessary cover for Marcelo. Against Gremio, Case seamlessly slipped into the back line to cover for the fullbacks—tonight he was left chasing shadows in the midfield.
Toni Kroos—5: The only thing saving Kroos’s rating from being lower was his wonderful drive through the midfield and threaded assist to Gareth Bale for Madrid’s first goal. Aside from that, Toni offered very little and simply could not be bothered to track back. Once he was beaten defensively, it was a slow jog back. He provided no help for Marcelo and Casemiro and exposed Madrid’s flaws. Was surprised not to see him taken off rather than Luka Modric.
Luka Modric—7: Little Luka was one of the few bright spots for Madrid. Works tirelessly in the midfield, especially when Achraf is given the nod to play. The Croatian always looks to double down on the right flank and support Achraf defensively. On top of the defensive work, he makes himself an outlet for young Achraf and the back line in order to transition the team from defense to attack. The only rationale for taking him off in this game is age—Toni Kroos was far below his normal level.
Isco—6.5: “Mago” produced a beautiful assist to find Gareth Bale for his second goal. Played again at the tip of the diamond, but again the system produced too many defensive flaws, especially in transition, and it no longer gets the best out of Isco or his teammates. There are moments of magic, though they are fleeting and consistently this team looks out of ideas.
Gareth Bale—9: The most active player in the opening minutes, made a lot of dangerous cutting runs and came close to earning a penalty. He was a constant nuisance for the Vigo back line. He was the go-to man for Madrid and came up huge with two important goals—first the equalizer and then minutes later the goal to put Madrid in front. The return of Gareth Bale will be massive for Madrid, but systemic issues need to be fixed to have any realistic chance at silverware this season.
Cristiano Ronaldo—6: Starved of service all evening. Ronaldo only had one solid opportunity, provided by Lucas Vazquez, which he opted to shoot early and directed right at the keeper. Connected well with Bale, but felt disconnected from the rest of the team and saw little of the ball.
Lucas Vazquez—5: Was brought on to provide cover for Achraf and see out the result. Should have recognized the danger on Celta’s second goal, as Varane was sucked in to mark Aspas and Gomez was left wide open. Vazquez was the nearest man and should have at least made a challenge in the air. With the game in the balance, he had a huge opportunity to score the winner but slinged his volley right at the keeper. A Madrid player, an impact substitute, needs to be scoring those opportunities.
Mateo Kovacic—5.5: Put into the middle of midfield to provide fresh legs and bring further defensive solidity. Will be upset as minutes after his introduction, Celta equalized. Had very few touches and did not leave his mark in this game.
Marco Asensio—N/A: Brought on in the dying minutes for a tiring Gareth Bale and did not have any time to make an impact.
Zinedine Zidane—3: The Frenchman is proving to be a stubborn man. He refuses to make any tactical changes to a flawed system. His unwavering faith in some players and complete disregard for others is baffling—what more does Vallejo need to do to prove he is a better player than Achraf? I am a fervent supporter of Zizou, but we are at the point the season where we need to try something new. The substitution of Modric, instead of Kroos, was a mistake. Despite Gareth’s phenomenal game, he was dead in the last 15 minutes and Asensio could have provided a spark. Fans, pundits, and journalists can always knit-pick, but there are glaring issues in this system that needs changing.
How long will Zidane persist with this “once de gala” the tactics need to be tweaked and personnel like Asensio/Kovacic are dying to break into this XI and deserve a chance. I love Zizou, but it’s the same issues week after week.— Matt Wiltse (@MattWiltse4) January 7, 2018