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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