Season of instability will tell us a lot more about Zinedine Zidane

Going into Saturday’s clash with Sevilla, Real Madrid had been experiencing their worst La Liga start since 2008. Questions were being asked of Zinedine Zidane.

Despite his incredible European and domestic success in the last two years, there are still those who doubt him.

And while the 5-0 thrashing dished out to their hapless weekend visitors was a timely reminder of their capabilities, questions remain about the champions and their manager.

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It’s a fascinating period in the Frenchman’s rein – and one that’s likely to tell us much more about where he stands amongst the game’s top managers.

If indeed it’s true that you learn more about a person in a period of adversity, then this season may give us a greater insight into what Zidane is all about.

Zizou has rightly received praise for his man management since taking charge in January 2016.

Not only did he successfully marshal a potentially sulky surfeit of stars to glory, but he did so while facing down Florentino Perez, Real’s trigger happy president, over how the club’s expensive array of galactico talent should be deployed.

However, some feel he’s not done much more than that. That moments of individual brilliance from the players, rather than Zidane’s tactical nous have been at the root of the Real’s success.

It’s the players who have brought home the bacon, while the 45-year-old has ridden in comfortably on the pig’s back.

But injuries, loss of form and a drop off in intensity have seen Los Blancos perform sluggishly this season, and the fans are looking to Zidane for answers.

In some ways, Real’s unconvincing start to the season is understandable.

After the huge efforts and success in the last two years, it’s not unnatural that some players may be finding it difficult to maintain that level of performance.

The loss of Alvaro Morata and James Rodriquez has also played a role.

It’s not just their goals that are being missed – the two struck 22 times between them last term – it’s their all-round quality as players, their experience, their know how.

To be fair to Zidane, he had done very well to keep them engaged last season, given their place in the club’s attacking pecking order.

But another season filling in for Cristiano Ronaldo, Karem Benzema and Gareth Bale was never really going to fly.

Indeed, the fact that the front three, when fit, looked set in stone has made it difficult for Real to attract replacements of similar calibre and may have influenced the club’s decision to focus on young talent in the summer window.

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The manager had insisted that he was content with the depth of senior talent in his squad, so money was instead spent on the likes of 20-year-old Dani Ceballos (a €16 million signing from Real Betis) and 19-year-old Theo Hernandez (a €30 million capture from Atletico Madrid).

Both have seen game time this season, along with other supremely talented youngsters, like the brilliant Marco Asensio (21), Achraf Hakimi (19) and Jesus Vallejo (20), who all figured in Saturday’s win.

The strategy makes eminent sense. With the likes Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos, all the wrong side of 30, Real and Zidane must look to the future.

And at the same time, the youngsters are more likely to be happy to bide their time than any established superstars Real might recruit.

That said, with youth comes inconsistency and inexperience. And while Zidane’s youngsters performed excellently at the weekend, they aren’t yet able to offer the levels of certainty Morata and James were able to provide.

Rumours that Peres may sanction moves in January for some big name reinforcements might suggest that Zidane may be feeling he’s left himself a little short in that regard.

But he may need to show that there are no sacred cows in his side if he’s to attract the likes of Mauro Icardi or Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng.

Essentially, Real are heading into a period of flux and Zidane is being tested.

The stability and the levels of performance that he’d been able to rely upon have been eroded.

Can he rejuvenate his players? Can he restore the intensity to Real’s play? Can he successfully tweak systems and tactics, integrate new players and show that he’s more than just a massager of egos?

Come May, we’ll know an awful lot more about Zinedine Zidane the manager.

The Author

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

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