How Zinedine Zidane has made Real Madrid league favorites once again

Love tends to cloud good judgment. This is why a decision made with a heart instead of a head can often backfire.

So when Zinedine Zidane cited love as the determining reason to return to Real Madrid in March 2019, just nine months after he left the club, many questioned his decision.

“When the president called me, the first thing I thought about was going back,” explained the French coach in his second presentation.

“This is an important day and I am here because I really love this club.”

Zidane had left Real after unprecedented success, at least in the modern era. He had won three consecutive Champions League titles, an even more impressive feat given that no club had retained the European Cup since it was renamed in 1992.

There was also a La Liga title, two UEFA Super Cups, two World Club Cups and a Spanish Super Cup.

Zidane knows how to do the job

Zidane had nothing left to prove in Madrid, nothing more to achieve. And yet, he returned with the club out of the race for the La Liga title, out of the Champions League, and with Cristiano Ronaldo he was no longer at the Bernabéu.

“It is a great challenge and I am not thinking about the past because if I had, I would not have returned,” Zidane admitted.

“I am again in charge of the project with renewed energy after nine months. I am ready to experience once again what it means to train Real Madrid and be in this great club ”.

Zidane’s return was greeted with great excitement, but there was no immediate improvement in results or performances.

Zidane’s return did not yield immediate results

The defense continued to be exposed.

The midfield was a single beat.

And the attack remained severely affected by Ronaldo’s departure, although Karim Benzema’s form improved.

Investment in the team was necessary last summer and President Florentino Pérez was never afraid to spend.

Then Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy, Luka Jovic and Eden Hazard entered. Other names were linked, including Paul Pogba, but a full review was not conducted.

It took Hazard a while to get going in Spain.

The challenge for Zidane was to incorporate the new signings and look for another season of battle-weary veterans Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Benzema.

In the first weeks of the campaign, it seemed like a difficult task.

Hazard struggled with injury, Jovic proved to be a failure and Real’s defense remained porous: they conceded six goals in their first four games in La Liga.

But, mainly due to Benzema, they did enough to avoid defeat.

However, that vulnerability was mercilessly exposed in the Champions League when Paris Saint-Germain posted a convincing 3-0 victory at Parc des Princes.

Zidane watches PSG beat Madrid at Parc des Princes

“What bothered me is that we didn’t put enough intensity into the game and at that level of competition, it’s not possible,” said an unhappy Zidane after the game.

A month later, Real suffered their first defeat in the league of the season, down 1-0 to Mallorca.

It was a difficult period for Zidane and the Spanish press speculated that José Mourinho could return to the Bernabéu.

However, the loss in Mallorca turned out to be a much-needed catalyst for Zidane, who made two big decisions.

Federico Valverde has become the first option for Los Blancos

The first was that Federico Valverde became a guaranteed starter, primarily at Modric’s expense.

The Uruguayan is not as technically blessed as the Croatian or his midfield counterpart Kroos, but he adds the much-needed energy and dynamism in midfield.

Second, Marcelo, a player to whom Zidane was fiercely loyal, lost his place on the side to Mendy, who has a more defensive attitude, providing more athleticism and thrust from the left.

Mendy has been incredibly impressive in 2020

The result of these changes was instantaneous: Madrid were 15 league matches undefeated and kept nine clean sheets. A frustrating loss to Levante followed, but Real recovered to beat Barcelona in the Classic and claim first place.

Zidane, rightly, received much praise for the change. His side was not particularly adventurous or too entertaining.

But what they have been, however, is organized, disciplined and ruthless.

They have controlled parties and limited the threat from the opposition. And when opportunities have been created, Benzema has generally taken them.

Karim Benzema enjoys a good campaign

Despite all that, a cheap loss against Real Betis before the suspension of football returned the title initiative to Barcelona.

“I am the coach and when things are not going well or we are not doing what we have talked about, I am responsible,” said Zidane. “It was our worst game of the season.”

Real has recovered in the post-coronavirus soccer world.

They have won all three league games and have returned to the top and control the fate of their league, with the burgeoning partnership of Benzema and Hazard showing great promise.

Zinedine Zidane talks to French Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema

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However, they have ruled out an advantage before, letting go of momentum. A race to the title is far from guaranteed.

This current royal crop is not easy to judge, especially since its biggest rivals Barcelona are disorganized both on and off the pitch.

But Zidane’s work this season should not be underestimated.

He has made the most of an aging team, has covered Hazard’s loss for much of the season, and has done everything in the usual and discreet manner.

If your royal team wins the League this season, it is an achievement that will not be announced in the same way as the success of the three mob Champions League.

However, perhaps it would be a triumph from which Zidane derives greater satisfaction.

Because it would be a title won by a shrewd coach and management of men rather than moments of brilliance from the superstar players.

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