In an unequivocally shoddy year for the world as a whole, Real Madrid have fared surprisingly well. With three more titles to add to their trophy cabinet and an ongoing 37-game unbeaten streak, one would think Zidane has built himself a European juggernaut – and to some extent, they would be right. This isn’t the kind of team that outplays their opposition on a weekly basis though – or even one with a clearly defined footballing identity. It’s a team with winning ingrained into their DNA; one that refuses to accept defeat until the very last second; and mostly importantly, one that delivers when it matters most.
But winning isn’t all that matters at a club like Real Madrid – and ultimately, cohesiveness will be integral to their long-term success. Attention will have to be paid to the nitty gritty, especially by Zizou, so that he can address the underlying issues holding his side back from fulfilling their immense potential. Of course, some of these problems are more prominent – so much so that they have pointed out by fans and critics alike in recent times, with injuries only emphasizing the urgent need for solutions.
The first of these has been an unhealthy dependence on Luka Modric for midfield stability. Without the Croatian wizard, Madrid’s midfield is noticeably toothless – struggling to transition effectively between defense and attack. It’s a problem that has plagued Los Blancos ever since the first Galacticos era, and was only somewhat diminished by Xabi Alonso’s arrival in 2009. Modric adopted a deeper role after the Spaniard’s departure and has performed admirably since, weaving through the lines and controlling games with aplomb. Another player will have to be groomed for the role if the club are to develop a more fluid system – as injuries and age will catch up with their maestro sooner or later.
No player is immune to this natural progression of the human body, not even one possessing the supernatural abilities of Cristiano Ronaldo – with our next point of focus the lack of rest for the Portuguese legend. With his 32nd birthday approaching in February, CR7 will succumb to the aging process eventually – and overusing him will only pave the way. Zidane has shown more liberty when it comes to benching his talisman than any before him, but he will have to gradually increase the frequency of it all to ensure Ronaldo’s long-term health. The player’s own drive for success is a potential roadblock, but even he must come to terms with life at some point.
Last on the list of concerns is something that may be looked at in a positive light by some, with the fraction of total goals coming from Real’s infamous BBC trident down significantly from previous seasons. This can largely be attributed to a lack of appearances for the front-three, and even fewer games where they’ve shared the pitch. However, Madrid have shown themselves to be at their best when their stars are firing on all cylinders – and will need them to deliver consistently if they are to fight on all fronts. And if not, the likes of Vazquez and Morata will be waiting to pounce on their inadequacies and give Zidane some big decisions to make in the new year.