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Should Zidane just go with the old guard?

A convicing win in Vigo should not fool any Madridistas: the team still needs to strengthen its attacking options


Earlier this week, we published our 19/20 season preview. Almost half-jokingly, my recipe for a quick fix after a disappointing preseason – the first question in the preview – was to go 100% old school. This mere suggestion brought a few messages from Madridistas questioning my mental health, but that’s pretty much what Zidane did against Celta on Saturday afternoon. Truth is, he didn’t have many other alternatives, and this one looked doomed to fail having watched the last few friendlies. But it’s a funny old game, and it worked.

Gareth Bale earned his coach’s praise after the match, we witnessed a more than decent Marcelo that punished my scepticism, we saw a focused Kroos who even managed to score, we recovered the active, almost omnipresent Casemiro… We even guessed a few glimpses of a decent press led by Modric and Benzema, and were entertained by a team which showed that they remember how to suffer when the going gets tough: Modric’s sending off didn’t have that much of an impact on the match.

Real Madrid v Celta de Vigo - La Liga
And you thought I was done...
Photo by COOLMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It was in fact the old guard. Remember, seven of those starters had played under Carlo Ancelotti. Only one of the most recent additions to the team, Odriozola, failed to perform at the level of his teammates; through his flank, Denis Suarez and Iago Aspas tormented Real Madrid, although they didn’t finish any of their plays.

In summary, we saw a decent performance by the same core of players that failed miserably last season, but who have played together for such a long time and under so many different circumstances that, if focused and motivated, can still deliver. Varane (26) Casemiro (27), Kroos (29), Bale (30), Marcelo and Benzema (31) and Modric / Ramos (both 33 years old) have played together for at least five seasons, and most are still in reasonable shape. Their talent is undoubtable and they know each other by heart, an advantageous factor usually forgotten due to the constant change in most team’s structures nowadays.

That is pretty much how one would build the case for the old guard to be the base of the team this season, despite Zidane’s famous statement when he took over: “There will be changes”.

Real Madrid v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final
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Not a bad quartet
Photo by Angel Martinez/Real Madrid via Getty Images

Of course, no one really believes that the old guard are the solution, and ZZ himself is the first to think that way, despite his obvious attachment to that Kroos/Modric/Case midfield, for instance. Zidane has simply shown he’s adaptable: the fact that Bale started on Saturday after those brutal press conferences earlier this summer speaks volumes about the Frenchman’s ability to change his mind and work with the best talent available. However, he still needs / waits for a new signing. His biggest challenge this season is how to organize the transition from the current team to something newer, younger, much more intense, way more disciplined.

The main issue is well-known: this old guard formation was a gift from the gods to Cristiano Ronaldo, and vice versa. Without him, Bale’s and Benzema’s scoring won’t be enough to compete for silverware, even though they can fool more than a few with some inspired matches in a row. And given that, like in the chant of the English terraces, there’s only one Cristiano Ronaldo, you need more than one addition to cover for his goal-scoring, increasing the offensive options of the squad.

RB Salzburg v Real Madrid - Pre-Season Friendly
A step on the right direction
Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Hazard is one move on the right direction: he not only can score himself, but also can create plenty of interesting attacking dynamics for the team. But to be really competitive at the top level, the squad needs more than one of the next possibilities to happen: a) Vinicius starts to see the opposition’s goal bigger than the size of a pea, as is currently the case – plenty of scorers have been late learners, like Salah or Mane; b) Jovic delivers on his promise of becoming our new cold-blooded killer; c) there’s a new signing that adds extra ammunition up front before the end of August (you all know who I mean by this, like him or not).

I’ve left aside the possibilities of d) Kroos and Modric becoming a scoring factor, because we’ve been there too many times and e) of Bale staying healthy for a full season for the same reason. That said, for specific matches both d) and e) could help the team, as it’s happened in the past, we just can’t rely on these for a full season. And there’s also the alternative that one of the youngsters becomes a star, but that’s even less likely given Zidane’s conservative approach with the kids.

Of course, this group plus the signings made so far can still put together a decent season, but it’s still lacking finishing upfront, and with a defensive shape that was never bullet-proof, that factor has been the difference for their success in the past. Again, the old guard approach can be a quick fix and it will get us through the first few matches of the season, but once I see Sevilla away (fifth matchday) or Atletico at the Wanda (seventh), I’m not that comfortable with Saturday’s line-up. That’s how fast Zidane needs to get other players going, or simply, how fast the club needs to get that other player…

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