We often dream of having more than we currently have, it’s the nature of the beast. When you have a one-bedroom apartment you secretly want a two-bedroom house. If your neighbour buys a new car you wish you could do the same. But what do you wish for when you have the mansion, an endless fleet of supercars and the most beautiful person by your side? Well, in a roundabout way, that’s the problem facing Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid.
The squad at Zindae’s disposal is the envy of every other manager in football. Yet while they continue to match expectations and add trophy after trophy to the cabinet, each member’s self-worth increases too. No longer are those kids who impressed off the bench content to fulfil the same role again. If the objective of a squad player is to prove they are good enough when given the chance, yet things don’t change, it causes unrest.
Healthy competition or a recipe for disaster?
Zidane’s main issue at the moment is keeping his array of attacking talents happy. The ‘BBC’, like ‘MSN’, is on the verge of being overhauled. Cristiano Ronaldo defies his critics and, along with the coach’s management of his fitness, is still the main man. Yet for Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema the future is less certain. Either because of injuries, poor form or being the least popular, they are under huge pressure to remain in Zidane’s ‘A’ team. And really, do they still deserve their place?
The question is being asked because of the rise of Marco Asensio and Isco. Two young usurpers run themselves into the ground and make a difference when they’re on the pitch. A will, a desire to impress their audience – and both know that audience well. The Santiago Bernabeu can be an unforgiving place but if you walk off the pitch exhausted, you will at least escape the boo boys. Asensio and Isco are the clear choice for the fans.
Youth or experience
And this is a crossroads for Zidane. Does he give the two kids, who continue to impress and delight the crowd, their chance in the first team? Or, instead, does he play it safe and stick with the ‘BBC’ and use Isco and Asensio as options off the bench? Five into three doesn’t work and, sooner or later, Zidane needs to make a decision.
The only slice of luck Zidane had last season were Bale’s injuries. Now, that isn’t meant to come across as harsh as it sounds, but it meant he didn’t need to drop one of his star forwards to make room for Isco. While Cristiano got plenty of plaudits for his fine finish to the season, it was Isco who was just as key. His drive, energy and creativity in the final third made a huge difference to Madrid’s overall play.
Let’s also not ignore the fact Isco is actively pushing for a greater role as his contract enters its last 12 months.
So how does Zidane go about managing the embarrassment of riches he has in attack?
Stick with the BBC
The easiest option, once Cristiano’s available again, is reverting back to the 4-3-3 which served him so well last season. This means sticking with Bale and Benzema, despite their failures as a ‘two’, and hoping as a trio they’ll get the best out of each other.
And while Isco’s form was incredible, Bale also looked good until injury struck. In times like these, would Zidane prefer experience over youth? With games galore this year, there should be enough minutes for everyone. Perhaps the odd tweak when needed, but overall maintaining the ‘BBC’ is first choice.
Asensio would remain the go-to option off the bench and add pace to the attack. A lot of his goals have come from that exact role when he’s running at tired legs. He’s only 21 so there’s no real need to rush him into the starting line-up. Unless Asensio rarely plays this season, which won’t happen, he should still make Spain’s World Cup squad.
Isco would be the unhappiest at sticking with the existing set-up. After demonstrating his ability for club and country in a fantastic 12-month period, he must expect to start. He’s 25 and already missed out on the Euros in 2016 due to his bench role at Madrid. Although Vincent del Bosque got a lot wrong with that squad, Isco might not take the chance of it happening again and could force a move away in January. Remember, he’s still yet to sign a new deal.
Isco for Bale
Could Zidane reward Isco for his improvement and drop the Welshman to the bench? It would be a huge call to make but it’s one that is hard to argue with either. It’s worth pointing out that Bale hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as people make out. Yet I think it was telling that it was his name banded about as the most likely to leave in the event Kylian Mbappe signed for Real Madrid. Benzema is safe as the unselfish striker, Bale less so.
And the reality isn’t necessarily about what Bale doesn’t bring to the table but more what Isco does. Sometimes Madrid’s attack be can be too top heavy and this unsettles the side, putting strain on the midfield and defence. Isco helps solve that because of his superior workrate and the ease in which he drops into midfield. He doesn’t have that blistering pace but his close control allows him to beat his man and this, in turn, creates space for others. It would also allow Madrid to play more of a 4-4-2 as opposed to having three out-and-out forwards.
Drop Bale and Benzema, move to ‘CIA’
Right now, the reactionary fans want Isco and Asensio to start in their ideal team. It makes sense on the surface of things because both continue to impress. However, In the current 4-4-2 it would be difficult as Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are certain starters. Neither of the two can play as striker either, so only a 4-3-3 works.
Asensio on the left, Cristiano in the middle and Isco on the right. Both of the Spaniards would probably have a license to roam inside, especially as the fullbacks create so much width. Quite how Cristiano would fair in the lone striker role, even though he’s been playing up there for over six months now, is another matter. He loves to have someone to work off and can’t be left isolated up top.
The biggest issue with this isn’t necessarily what it does to the team but having two big names on the bench. They aren’t likely to sit and accept the back-up role quietly. It could cause disruption to the squad should either – or both – push for a move in January.
Can Zidane keep everyone happy as he juggles the squad?
Zidane believes squad harmony is key and wants everyone pulling in the same direction. He publicly backed the club to stick with Keylor Navas instead of moving for David De Gea. It’s crucial those in the squad accept their role and feel they have the backing of the coach. Dropping either Bale or Benzema immediately creates a problem, even if it’s the right decision. That’s probably why Zidane would have secretly liked Bale to have left in the summer to avoid this situation.
However, there’s also a slight concern with Isco, too. Can you continue to play him when he’s entering the final 12 months of his deal? Is he using his situation to put pressure on the club to use him, while not committing his future to them? It’s all about fine margins and you would imagine that if Isco pens a new deal before the January transfer window, Bale is on his way.
Either way, Zidane will need to make a decision soon and it won’t please everyone.