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Preparations: 9 November 2022

Wednesday Edition of The Daily Merengue

The Daily Merengue is a place where you can feel free to discuss all things football. Do not be alarmed by the overt RMCF bias. It’s in the name!

Shoutout to the mods who do a fantastic job, Valyrian Steel, Kung_Fu_Zizou, Juninho, NeRObutBlanco and yours truly, Felipejack

Trainning for Cádiz

The last game for Los Blancos before the World Cup halt is tomorrow vs Cádiz. Unfortunately, with one game less than Barcelona, Real Madrid is 2nd and 5 points behind them.

Benzema updates ahead of Cádiz

The club thinks Benzema issue is lack of match fitness. He is reporting pain in muscles after game and training session with the group. He still wasn’t able to train with the rest of the squad. Therefore, his presence in what turned to be an important game for Real Madrid is, per AS, very unlikely.

Benzema is also expected in Lyon to present his Ballon d’Or trophy during the game between Lyon and Nice on Friday, 11 November.

Continuing the tactics conversation

More questions and answers from my conversation with Om Arvind (MM managing editor and host of Las Blancas pod) about tactics. In this part, we continued to discuss about Zidane’s style, but now is about the second stint. These are the final questions about Zidane and the next ones are related to Carlo Ancelotti.

Felipe: Why in Zidane’s second stint did the team look more lethargic or without intensity?

Om Arvind: There was the personnel stuff: Mendy was not at the same level offensively as Marcelo, Ronaldo was no longer in the team, KCM and the defensive line were older. The main fresh player was Fede Valverde, who was very good in 19/20, but it took him a long time to find that form again. In that time, Vinícius was unreliable; Rodrygo was promising but didn’t have elite consistency and Hazard also became unreliable extreme quickly. In addition, I think Zidane intentionally crafted a team that was more lethargic and conservative because we could no longer take the risks we did before. We were never the best team in defensive transition – Casemiro, Modric, Varane and Ramos saved us many times.

In his second stint, Zidane’s great success and the big change I didn’t expect was that we legit became a true defensive force in the 2019/20 season. We conceded fewer goals than Atleti and were also better defensively on xG. We had never done this before in the Diego Simeone era. The defensive structure was legit good: 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1, nothing revolutionary. We were organized, players were committed, and Valverde and Mendy helped a lot.

Although we defended well, we still needed to score goals, so Zidane made Casemiro a striker and used Ramos as an auxiliary box presence. In summary, he reacted to the reality of the squad: 1) made us more sound defensively, 2) took less risks and 3) got just enough offense by moving Casemiro higher up in a more extreme way than before.

It’s interesting that Zidane was always willing to take risks with Casemiro, but few others. For instance, to play Odegaard, Zidane’s team would have had to penetrate the center more and we would have had to play faster and more aggressively, which he was maybe uncomfortable with. By contrast Zidane was ok with us going up the pitch slowly and adjusting by throwing bodies into the box. His second stint is more interesting because I think it reveals more of who he was in the past, because we can compare with similar enough players while also seeing key changes. Zidane did change things from his previous stint. Interestingly, he didn’t alter the possession structure to make it more in line with these modern positional play ideals.

Felipe: Why didn’t Zidane’s team use many through balls?

Om Arvind: There were some moments where they did, but you can see in the statistics that Zidane’s team made way less through balls than Mourinho’s. Zidane prioritizes very secure progression, which resulted in the team not making many passes to break lines. Most through balls come from a person receiving between the forward and midfield lines or, more usually, between the midfield and defensive lines before then breaking the defensive line with a pass. We didn’t have many passes to the center between the midfield and the defensive lines because there weren’t many players there. Benzema was the number one guy that would be between the lines, but who does he pass to if he receives there? Our wide players were usually not narrow and didn’t make diagonal runs; they stayed wide to receive (except when Ronaldo was in the team – he had total freedom).

Some of this is because Zidane is not a complete tactical coach. I think he lacks the practical knowledge to implement the positional play model he is influenced by. It is also a result of mixing Carlo’s laxer approach with these more modern ideas. The result is slower, more lethargic play and less passes between the lines. I think he didn’t have the framework to play a riskier, line-breaking style.

Lopetegui is similar. He is more structured, but his main problem is the lack of creativity within his structure to get things going between the lines. What you see from Lopetegui is very good control, lots of possession, good pressing, his teams are more stable in defensive transition than Zidane’s, but his teams play a ton of crosses. What was the team that had the same or greater crosses than Zidane’s Real Madrid? Lopetegui’s Sevilla.

An easy way to evaluate tactics is to hone in on the key relationships the manager has with his players – how he uses his players and which players he allows the most latitude to do things. For Zidane, Isco, Casemiro and Benzema were the players he allowed to do the most and he adjusted the rest around them. For instance, Benzema was in horrible form for a long time and Zidane never benched him. Isco was his number one go-to guy when the BBC wasn’t there. In 2017/2018, Zidane made the call for Isco over Bale (in my opinion, Bale wasn’t in bad form) - the latter of whom was fit for the last third part of the season and could have played the UCL final vs Liverpool.

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