How Zidane has Real Madrid scoring more headers than any team in Europe

In Lisbon it was Sergio Ramos; on Tuesday it was Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese set Real Madrid on their way to victory against Atletico in the Champions League semi-finals with a header after 10 minutes - and it has become a hallmark of Los Blancos in recent times.

Ronaldo hits hat-trick as Madrid thrash Atletico

Ronaldo's hat-trick means Madrid are on the verge of another appearance in the final after a 3-0 win over Diego Simeone's side and Zinedine Zidane's men have placed special emphasis on aerial ability to advance in the Champions League and La Liga this term.

In the pre-match press conference on Monday, Dani Carvajal was asked which small details could give his team the edge in another difficult derby. And in his reply, the defender mentioned dead-ball situations as a weapon for Los Blancos.

He was right, too, because 19 of Madrid's goals in La Liga this term (21% in total) have come from set pieces - 10 from corners and nine from free-kicks.

Real Madrid headers

However, Madrid have scored 26 times from headers in the Primera Division this term - 28% of their 92 goals in the league in 2016-17. And that is more than any other team from Europe's top five leagues.

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The next best is Monaco, with 18 goals from headers in Ligue 1 this season and - perhaps not coincidentally - also in the semi-finals of the Champions League. And Ronaldo's header against Valencia on Saturday saw Madrid surpass the mark set by Simeone's Atletico in 2014-15, when the Rojiblancos finished the season with 25 goals from headers.

Ronaldo, Ramos and Alvaro Morata have all scored six apiece from the air in La Liga this season, with three from Gareth Bale and two from Pepe among the 26 headed goals.

Los Blancos are blessed with a number of players who are tall and strong in the air, but also footballers with the technique to be able to pick them out in the area, including Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Marcelo and Carvajal (who has more assists than any defender in Europe this season). 

Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid Atletico Madrid Champions League
Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid

But there is more to it than that because Goal has learned that Zidane and his coaching staff - in particular goalkeeper coach Luis Llopis and assistant David Bettoni - have worked hard behind the scenes to perfect the strategy, with special emphasis on finishing, movement and also blocks to open up spaces for attackers in every session.

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It is paying dividends in La Liga. Madrid are currently in second on the same points as Barcelona, but Los Blancos still have a game in hand and if they win the title for the first time since 2011-12, they will look back to many key headers including Ramos' leveller in the Clasico at Camp Nou, the defender's winner at home to Deportivo and vital goals from Ronaldo, Morata and others.

In the Champions League, too, they have been decisive in the air. Two Ramos headers helped Madrid past Napoli in Italy, while Ronaldo netted in each leg with his head against a Bayern side who had not conceded that way all season at home or in Europe and the Portuguese set Madrid on their way with another against Atletico on Tuesday.

"Let's take advantage of our strength in the air, look for the blocks!" That was a message overheard at San Siro ahead of extra time in last season's Champions League final which Madrid won on penalties. And almost a year on, the strategy is more effective than ever.

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