One of football’s oddities is the expectation that some managers will readily lie to our face despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The tactic to defend their players and deflect from poor performances is more or less common-place. So it is comes as no surprise when Real Madrid’s struggles first surfaced this season, Coach Zinedine Zidane was adamant that little was wrong with his side or their football.
In press conferences he said he did not need anyone and believe in his squad and used phrases such as: “the ball just did not want to go in.” But game by game, loss by loss it seemed less like spin tactics and more like his sincerely held beliefs about how the season has gone. His faith in his players and tactics is admirable but his inability - or unwillingness - to ring the changes has derailed Real Madrid’s season.
Their recent 7-1 drubbing of Deportivo La Coruna may have further warped his views. Buoyed by the hefty victory – a regularity last season – he took his foot off the gas. Currently 19 points off Barcelona at the top of La Liga and with Ernesto Valverde’s side showing little signs of slowing down, Madrid’s only chances of major silverware lie in the cup competitions.
This gave their recent Copa del Rey second leg match against Leganes a little more importance, though apparently not important enough to start Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale, or even name them in the squad, despite scoring two apiece in their last outing. To not include his two most potent goal threats even on the bench smacks of arrogance and underestimation on Zidane's part, despite holding such a slender first leg lead.
Without them there were few who could change the game when they went 2-1 down like Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez would last season. In fact, Marcelo is the only Real Madrid player to score when coming off the bench this season, which highlights a lack of strength in depth. It’s hard for Zizou, whose tried and tested methods over the past season or so have borne silverware and plaudits aplenty.
His attacking philosophy is wonderfully simple when it works. Push the full backs up and cross; it plays to the strengths of Dani Carvajal and Marcelo in terms of their attacking and crossing along with the finishing of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale with their head or feet cutting in from the wide positions.
Whether it’s poor form or predictability, it has not worked this season but they still persist with this approach. Real Madrid attempted 44 crosses in the second leg against Leganes but only completed five. Right now the tactics and players are not working for Zidane.
Real Madrid have clear and present problems and denial will only irk their fans further. With this humbling defeat it seems the penny has dropped, with the Coach taking responsibility for the defeat upon his shoulders.
It is not 100% his fault; his players have to perform for him too. It’s another one of those managerial tactics to put their players out of the firing line, instead pointing the gun at himself. And truly believing he has made mistakes is the first step to salvaging the shipwreck. He has more than earned the right to at least try.