Equal Time: Can Real Madrid win La Liga?
Background image: Roberto, CC BY-SA 4.0
Real Madrid's 2-1 loss to Real Betis leaves Los Blancos two points shy of league leaders Barcelona. The poor result came just one week after thumping FC Barcelona in El Clasico. Against Barcelona, every Real Madrid player gave their all. To see such a significant drop in performance while failing to back up their huge victory is simply unacceptable.
After the defeat, Zinedine Zidane's words were rather telling:
"This was our worst game as we lacked everything, from energy to play to possession to intensity."
In La Liga, there's eleven games left. With no fixture congestion due to both sides being knocked out of the Copa Del Rey, it's a head-to-head fight for the title. Realistically, Real may have to win every single one to wrestle the crown back to the Santiago Bernabeu.
Both Barcelona and Real face the three teams who are in the relegation zone; Mallorca, Leganes, and Espanyol. While Barcelona face Atletico Madrid in the upcoming weeks, Real face Getafe, Valencia, and Sociedad in due course. These are not top teams by any means, though they are sides who can hurt you on their day. Real have to be wary.
Surprise package Getafe are the talk of the town. Valencia's consistency over the years shows they're capable, though the toughest task will be Sociedad. This season, Alexander Isak, Mikel Oyarzabal and Martin Odegaard are running riot in Spain. It doesn't reflect their league standing (7th) but they're performing at an incredibly high level.
Despite Martin Braithwaite's acquisition, Barcelona still lacks goals. The typical over-reliance on Lionel Messi isn't paying off this term. In the Champions League, their tie against Napoli is hanging in the balance. A 1-1 draw sees the Blaugrana as favourites for progression, whereas Madrid finds themselves in a hole against Manchester City. In a weird way, this helps Los Blancos as again, they'll have fewer games to play, leaving La Liga as their sole focus.
There are several things that Zizou can do to make his path to a La Liga title slightly less stressful. Sure, there's no easy way out, while removing your star striker from the starting line-up could be considered a bold call. Sometimes, though, you have to make those tough decisions.
Give Jovic and Mariano a chance
Karim Benzema needs a break. Regardless of his off-the-ball movement, the 32-year-old striker's form cannot go unnoticed. The Frenchman ended his goal drought from the penalty spot but not scoring from open play since February 1st is scary for Real's first-choice forward. Both Mariano Diaz and Luka Jovic are waiting in the wings. The former will certainly be in good spirits after netting against Barca in the Clasico...
Zidane could experiment with a two-man striking force, using Jovic and Mariano together. During his Frankfurt days, Jovic paired up with Sebastien Haller and produced wonders. Mariano fits Haller's profile. Why not give it a try?
Got only 8.5 games to play if divided in minutes, why and how people came to the conclusion he's not a good enough player, is really a funny situation. https://t.co/0KC5ClLi6I
Use other fringe players wisely
Part of Zidane's success in 2016-17 and 17-18 season was due to his brilliant man-management skills. He used the likes of Marco Asensio, Isco, James Rodriguez, Alvaro Morata and Mateo Kovacic with full effectiveness and efficiency. It was the perfect template for any manager looking to handle a large squad.
This season, however, Zidane rotates less. Rodriguez played his last league game in October against Mallorca. Gareth Bale's involvement is inconsistent at best. As mentioned earlier, Mariano and Jovic both deserve their opportunity.
Don't change Casemiro-Kroos-Valverde
Zidane's choice to pick Luka Modric ahead of Fede Valverde paid off in a defeat against Betis. Valverde suits the Frenchman better. Modric cannot play at the same level he used to. Real's midfield works best when Valverde is paired with Casemiro and Toni Kroos. There's a high sense of stability with the Uruguayan in the side.
There was no midweek game scheduled before or after, still, Zizou dropped Valverde and Real suffered. The same situation played out against Levante two weeks ago. Real lost another three points. Without Valverde, five points were dropped needlessly.
In the end, the winner of La Liga will be the team who makes fewer mistakes. Neither of the Spain's elite sides is performing at an optimum level. While Zidane struggles to find consistency, Barcelona struggle to adapt to Quique Setien's new tactics. At the current pace, Barcelona have to be favourites to lift the trophy, though Real does possess the quality to hunt them down...