Coming into his first full season in charge of Real Madrid first team, Zinedine Zidane has made few personnel changes to his side, but many tactical alterations to that of Rafa Benitez.
Zidane’s tactical expertise were clearly shown in Real’s two one victory over Celta Vigo, with Alvaro Morata and Toni Kroos grabbing the goals over a stubborn Celta side managed by Eduardo Berizzo.
Beginning with their usual four three three, Casemiro, Kroos and Luka Modric played behind a front three of Marco Asensio, Morata and Gareth Bale, with Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo not yet ready to start for Los Blancos.
With Casemiro playing deeper, as usual than Kroos and Modric, Madrid struggled to cope with Celta’s high pressure meaning Zizou had to change things up. Their pressure was starving Madrid’s front three of quality service.
Zidane effectively turned the midfield on its head, making Kroos and Modric the two deepest of the front six and forming a double pivot in front of a back four of Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane and Marcelo. This, however, meant that Casemiro was the furthest forward of Madrid’s midfield.
Having two players of Modric and Kroos’ ability allowed Real to bypass the first phase of Celta’s high-quality pressing system, something Casemiro wasn’t capable of doing on his own at the beginning of the game.
Although Kroos and Modric’s shift deeper meant Zidane’s side could cut through Celta easier, it also meant Casemiro was the player tasked with dropping into the space between Celta’s lines, something he isn’t capable of doing.
As the game grew on, it was evident Real Madrid were crying out for an attacking option capable of drift between Celta’s backline and midfield.
Coming in for just the last 20 minutes, with the score level at one apiece, James Rodriguez’s arrival was game changing, despite the limited game time.
Switching places with Modric, James allowed Casemiro to drop back into a deeper role and him, James, providing the difference between sustained possession and clear-cut chances for Real simultaneously.
James’ introduction also allowed Real Madrid to press higher up the park, something that worked incredibly well the last term.
Now with James, Diaz, Lucas Vazquez and Bale on as a front four Zidane’s men could now pressurise Celta’s back line, with this leading to Real’s winner.
James’ pressing won the ball from Facundo Roncaglia setting up the attack for Kroos to slide the ball in of the post from 20 yards in the 81st minute.
Despite missing Ronaldo and Benzema, Zidane’s tactical nous was enough to overthrow Celta, and with their arrival to the starting 11 imminent, Real could be in for another trophy-laden season.
Zidane’s aptitude to realise what to and when to do it is something he will have to call upon regularly this season as sides set-up to frustrate the Galacticos of Madrid.
Although he was missing two of his big names against Celta, Zidane was aware enough to alter his tactical game plan to nullify Berizzo’s pressing set-up as opposed to relying on his star power to dig them out of a hole like Benitez, amongst other managers, have been guilty of in the past.