Zinedine Zidane’s hasn’t figured out Real Madrid’s midfield conundrum

It wasn’t known how the surprise defeat to Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey during the week would affect Real Madrid, but their 4-1 away win over Osasuna on Sunday allayed any fears over any lasting damage, giving the capital club a six-point lead ahead of Barcelona at the top of La Liga with the Catalans set to face Real Betis on Sunday evening.

Indeed, it was an emphatic response from Zinedine Zidane’s side, especially after falling behind early on. Osasuna made the first 20 minutes tough for the visitors to Pamplona, but Real Madrid adjusted and came storming back, adding some gloss to the scoreline late on in the second half.

However, the match still gave Zidane something to think about. While many areas of his team are working there, Real Madrid still have something of a midfield conundrum. Against Atletico Madrid, the Frenchman picked five central operators in the hope that they would help control the derby. All they did, though, was clog up the centre of the pitch with changes made at half time in accordance.

Against Osasuna, Zidane opted for a lighter midfield, with Gareth Bale surprisingly selected over Toni Kroos despite the Welshman being ostracised recently. The idea was that this would free up space for the likes of Isco and Luka Modric to drive into, but with few bodies in the centre of the pitch Real Madrid struggled for control.

Real Madrid’s midfield has been something of a contradiction this season. While Casemiro, Kroos, Modric and Fede Valverde have all excelled in recent months, particularly in the case of the latter, Zidane has yet to settle on the shape and system to get the absolute best out of them. He seems unsure on which three to pick for the biggest, most important games.

In the end, Isco and Modric used the extra space offered to them against Osasuna to their advantage, putting the tiring hosts to the sword in the second half. But against higher calibre sides they might have been played around. Real Madrid’s high press wasn’t up to much. With the Spanish title race set to intensity over the next few weeks, and the Champions League soon to return for the round of 16 stage, Zidane will surely have to settle on what he wants his midfield unit to look like.

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Isco has a future at Real Madrid once again

There was a point not so long ago at which it seemed that Isco was as good as finished as a Real Madrid player, at least as long as Zinedine Zidane was at the club. Indeed, the playmaker was a peripheral figure over the early part of the season. Even as injuries struck Real Madrid hard, the likes of James Rodriguez were preferred.

But then Isco was surprisingly dropped into the lineup to face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League a few weeks ago and he took the opportunity with both hands. The 27-year-old impressed against the French champions and played a key role in what was, until a late collapse, a strong Real Madrid performance.

This has proved to be a watershed moment for Isco. Since then the playmaker has been heavily involved for Real Madrid, even starting in the 0-0 draw against Barcelona at the Camp Nou this week. Injury to Eden Hazard might have been a factor in this decision, but Zidane still wouldn’t have turned to him just a few weeks ago.

Isco has been something of an enigma over the course of his Real Madrid career. At various points he has been considered the future of the Santiago Bernabeu club, but has never managed to string together a series of consistent performers to justify that tag. His talent has never been in doubt, but it’s too often fleeting in its appearance.

Recent performances suggest Isco may have turned a corner, though. Real Madrid are in the midst of a title race at the top of La Liga, with a Champions League last 16 tie against Manchester City also looming in the new year, and the 27-year-old might prove to be an important figure in that contest against Barcelona. Isco might not be in Zidane’s favoured lineup, especially once injuries clear up, but he still has a role to play for the capital club.

With January approaching Isco looks set to stay at the Santiago Bernabeu rather than making the move to the Premier League or Serie A, as looked likely not so long ago. Arsenal, who are seemingly linked with Isco year after year, will be disappointed. But others’ loss is Real Madrid’s gain as they have the player back who has prompted many to proclaim him the future of the club.

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Has Zinedine Zidane revived Isco as a force for Real Madrid?

The universal reaction to the release of Real Madrid’s team sheet for Tuesday’s Champions League clash against Paris Saint-Germain was one of surprise. Zinedine Zidane had settled on a consistent midfield three for a number of weeks before the crunch European fixture and Isco had not been a part of that. And yet the playmaker has given the nod against the French champions.

It was a tactical curveball from Zidane and Isco went on to vindicate his selection, playing well as Real Madrid drew 2-2. The playmaker was a constant thorn in PSG’s side and was inches away from opening the scoring for the hosts, hitting the post with a low shot before Karim Benzema converted the rebound.

For a long time, Isco has been a peripheral figure at Real Madrid. His natural talent cannot be doubted, but consistency has been a problem, as has fitness and match sharpness. Questions have also been asked of Isco’s defensive commitment. In recent years, he has been typecast as something of a luxury player, a luxury Real Madrid could do without.

There was a drive to Isco’s play against PSG, though. “He had a good match, with and without the ball,” Toni Kroos said afterwards. That latter part – “without the ball” – is telling and hints at what Zidane’s instructions to the playmaker were before the game. “He has worked hard and given us a lot, also with the ball,” Kroos continued. “Zidane does these things.”

Indeed, Zidane has done a good job of restoring a number of players previously deemed to be past their best. Kroos, for instance, has managed to find his best form again this season after being written off at the end of last season. Luka Modric has also benefited from a summer of rest.

Then there’s Karim Benzema, who at 31 just seems to be getting better and better and more and more important to Real Madrid. Even Marcelo, who looked finished towards the back end of last season, proved his worth in the game against PSG on Tuesday night. There is life in the old Brazilian full back yet.

Between the emergence of Fede Valverde and the re-emergence of Isco, Real Madrid’s midfield options have been bolstered since the summer, when their midfield seemed to be a real weakness. Isco might just have been given a second chance at the Santiago Bernabeu.

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Isco and James have been given a second chance at Real Madrid

Not so long ago, Isco and James Rodriguez seemed to be on their way out of the Santiago Bernabeu. The former found himself a peripheral figure while the latter was on loan at Bayern Munich with the Bavarians widely expected to make the deal for the Colombian playmaker permanent. Now, however, Real Madrid need the pair again.

Injuries to Toni Kroos and Luka Modric suffered over the international break have stretched the Real Madrid squad, particularly in the midfield. That has opened the door for Isco and James to make themselves key members of Zinedine Zidane’s team again. The Frenchman needs them to help fill the gaps starting with this weekend’s La Liga fixture away to Real Mallorca.

The pair will hope to evoke the spirit of the 2016/17 season when they both played an important role in leading Real Madrid to a Champions League and La Liga double. Many believe that only one of Isco or James can play in the same team. However, back then there was a place for both. They thrived and Real Madrid thrived on the back of that as a result.

Isco scored 11 times and contributed nine assists in all competitions over the course of the season while James found the back of the net 11 times and contributed 12 assists. At a time when the role of the playmaker is changing, these two were perhaps the purest manifestation of the position in the European game.

Real Madrid have struggled to find their groove over the early part of the season. A large part of the problem has been in their failure to strike the right balance in the final third of the pitch. In Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard they boast three of the most potent attackers in La Liga, but at times their supply line has been lacking. That certainly hasn’t helped Hazard find his feet in his new surroundings.

This is where Isco and James could make a real difference. Both players thrive on confidence and with injury ruling out Kroos and Modric for the time being this is an opportunity for them to find some heading into the winter months. Zidane won’t have welcomed these injuries to two key figures, but it could prove to be something of a watershed moment in their season.

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Real Madrid are showing others how to get rid of deadwood

A squad overhaul was always likely at Real Madrid this summer. Indeed, their 2018/19 season unravelled so quickly it gave everyone at the Santiago Bernabeu time to devise a strategy and in the space of two weeks the Spanish giants went about spending the best part of £300 million on new signings.

They signed Luka Jovic from Eintracht Frankfurt with Brazilian attacker Rodrygo arriving from Santos. Eder Militao was added, joining from Porto, while left back Ferland Merland was signed from Lyon. And of course, the long pursuit of Eden Hazard finally came to an end, with the Belgian signing for a fee reported to be around £100 million plus add-ons.


This is what has hogged the headlines in the Madrid press over the off-season. Real Madrid might not be finished spending either with recent reports claiming they have made an offer to Manchester United for Paul Pogba, a player Zinedine Zidane has been keen on for quite some time.

But Real Madrid’s summer has been about more than just big money signings. Zidane spent the final weeks of last season testing his squad, rotating players in and out of the team to determine who would be kept and who would be sold on. He is now acting on this, with numerous exits already secured.

Real Madrid are showing others how to get rid of deadwood from their squad. Mateo Kovacic has been sold for a fee of around £40 million to Chelsea, with Marcos Llorente leaving for Atletico Madrid. Then there’s Raul de Tomas, the striker who spent last season on loan at Rayo Vallecano. He’s been sold to Benfica for £20 million.

On top of this, Real Madrid are reportedly in talks to sell Dani Ceballos, Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale, Nacho Fernandez, Isco and Lucas Vazquez. Whether or not some of these players should be listed for transfer in the first place is up for debate, but Real Madrid are acting quickly to overhaul their squad.

Contrast this to the way Manchester United have struggled to free up space in their squad. Mateo Darmian, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Alexis Sanchez and Ashley Young have all been tipped to leave Old Trafford and yet they still remain. Some have even been handed new contracts in the past few months.

The past year hasn’t exactly seen Real Madrid painted as the perfect football club. They have made bad decisions and were made to pay for them. But they are now correcting some of their past mistakes. They are setting a precedent not just in the players they are bringing in, but in those they are moving on as well.

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Real Madrid’s clear out begins

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The news that Sergio Ramos has personally requested a transfer from Real Madrid should sound the alarm bells.

With a plethora of staff already being made available by the club, losing their talismanic captain just a year after Cristiano Ronaldo is a sure sign that Los Blancos are still on the way down.

Zinedine Zidane knew when he returned to the helm at the Santiago Bernabeu that this wouldn’t be an overnight job, but even he must’ve been surprised at just how far behind Barcelona his side have fallen. Continue reading

Zidane’s Real Madrid rebuild not just about attracting new ‘Galacticos’

The speculation started swirling almost as soon as Zinedine Zidane walked through the Santiago Bernabeu door again. The Frenchman’s return as Real Madrid manager was a shock, not least because of the way he’d left the club just nine months previously. His relationship with Florentino Perez, it was said, had broken down over direction and transfers, or a lack thereof, so Zidane surely got what he wanted in being lured back.

Indeed, Real Madrid are expected to make big moves in the transfer market this summer. Zidane will be afforded the freedom to mould his team as he likes, with a deal for Porto defender Militao already secured. But other, more illustrious names have been linked – the likes of Eden Hazard, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar etc.


Zidane’s rebuild should be about more than just attracting a new generation of ‘Galacticos,’ though. This was demonstrated by the performance of three players in particular as the Frenchman got off to a winning start in his second stint as Real Madrid manager with victory over Celta Vigo last weekend.

Having been ostracised by previous manager Santiago Solari, Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Isco were all handed starts by Zidane and all three repaid that faith, with the latter two scoring. It was a reminder of the under-utilised talent that remains at the Santiago Bernabeu. Neither Santiago nor Julen Lopetegui made the most of that.

Questions remain over Bale. The Welshman’s relationship with Zidane wasn’t the warmest, leading him to make comments after last season’s Champions League final suggesting a move away from Real Madrid was on the cards. Bale only stayed because Zidane left, so the return of the former Ballon d’Or winner rakes up old questions.

Asensio and Isco, on the other hand, were seen as the future of Real Madrid by Zidane in his first spell. Asensio, in particular, flourished under the Frenchman, when he looked like one of the best young players in the European game. Since then, Asensio has lost his way, but his performance against Celta Vigo suggests confidence is flowing back into his game.

It’s certainly true that Real Madrid need rejuvenation. They need a new direction and new players in the transfer market this summer. But they also need to make the most of what they have got. They haven’t done that this season, but Zidane might be the man to change this.

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Zidane’s Real Madrid return could offer reprieve for Isco


The return to La Liga side Real Madrid of Zinedine Zidane could spell a return to first team action for midfielder Isco, after previous boss Santiago Solari froze out the Spanish international this season.

The former Malaga player has not started a La Liga game since Solari replaced Julen Lopetegui in back in October 2018, and the club announced earlier this week that they would be opening disciplinary proceedings against him, after he missed a team meeting.

However, with Zidane coming back to the club he left nine months ago, he could look to bring the 26 year-old back in from the cold.

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Is Zidane the right choice for Real Madrid?

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No one could’ve predicted a scenario that saw Zinedine Zidane take over the Real Madrid hotseat just 10 months after he left it, but that’s precisely what’s happened in the aftermath of Los Blancos sacking their second coach this season, Santiago Solari.

The reasons could be many and though he’s not short of a euro or two, financial considerations will surely have played a huge part.

A promise from Florentino Perez that certain players will arrive or that Zidane will have a war chest of cash to go out and buy the very best is likely to be another. Continue reading

James Rodriguez to lead Real Madrid summer exodus


James Rodriguez is set to leave La Liga this summer, with Real Madrid happy for the Colombian international to move on after an unfulfilled five years at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Rodriguez, 27, signed for Los Blancos ahead of the 2014-15 campaign, on the back of an outstanding performance at the World Cup two months before, however his face never seemed to fit at the club particularly under previous boss Zinedine Zidane.

Despite the last two seasons on loan at Bayern Munich, he does not appear to be guaranteed a continued role in Bavaria either.

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