Injuries to Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, and Eden Hazard were always going to make tonight’s trip to Mallorca tricky. But the size of the banana peel lessened slightly with the postponement of the Clasico, which allowed Zidane to potentially field his strongest available XI, knowing he has next weekend clear for resting players — namely Casemiro who’s played nearly every available minute for both club and country.
But maybe he overlooked Mallorca when he decided to field Casemiro and Isco in a double pivot, deploying a gung-ho approach with Fede Valverde — in form and available — on the bench. Valverde was the best two-way midfielder available tonight to help Casemiro — an able body who could help the Brazilian in midfield and allow more freedom to the attackers.
It looked chaotic, though. Real Madrid had a high press early with clear holes behind it. A better passing team probably would’ve exploited Zidane’s men more in the first half. Still, even despite having a poor season, Mallorca did find space. They opened the scoring through Lago Junior in the seventh minute, when the attacker cut in from the left past Odriozola — who had no cover as Militao was spread thin, and James was not doubling up on the flank — and shot far past:
With an attacking formation, Zidane’s men didn’t create enough clear-cut opportunities to mask their lack of structure in midfield. There were really good individual actions at times, namely from James (acting as a release valve in build-up and playing good diagonal and vertical passes), Benzema (dropping deep providing good touches, hitting the cross bar, and distributing the ball wide in transition), Vinicius Jr (the main line-breaker with his dribbling, but a lack of efficiency when he got to goal), and Odriozola (a few good cut-ins from the right, finding the square pass to open players at the top of the box). But there was no real cohesion or chemistry up front. Marcelo and James put in nice crosses, but Mallorca picked everything off, and Luka Jovic was severely isolated.
A clear change was needed at half-time. If not a sub (with the obvious choice being Valverde), Zidane could’ve slotted James into central midfield to form a more narrow and compact 4-3-3 — allowing Benzema to drift to the left, Vinicius on the right, and Jovic as the main target. There were no changes at half-time, though, and it was hard to pinpoint what changed from a structural standpoint. Isco seemed to drift higher up the pitch while making runs into the box, and James came over to the left more often. The attacking build-up did not improve.
Zidane eventually made his changes at the 66th minute, when Valverde and Rodrygo came in for Jovic and Isco. Those changes did not really stabilize the chaos, namely because Real Madrid were chasing the game, and Odriozola got a red card eight minutes later, which threw things out of whack — sending Casemiro back to play in a makeshift backline, with Valverde at the base of midfield. Rodrygo’s speed did help in transition offensively, and James moved more into the half-spaces with Fede’s entrance — but again, it was chaos, and Real Madrid weren’t generating enough opportunities.
A tough, frustrating loss. We’ll break this down shortly on the post-game podcast.