Zinedine Zidane is six games away from winning his second LaLiga Santander title as Real Madrid coach, and his eleventh trophy overall.
Compared to his first title on the Real Madrid bench, the way he may win it is also different.
The Real Madrid now are completely different to the Real Madrid in 2016/17. From a forward thinking attacking unit, to one which is focussed on protecting their goal.
Zidane‘s only LaLiga Santander title was based on Cristiano Ronaldo and the 106 goals Los Blancos scored during that campaign. The 41 goals against mattered little, and is almost double the number conceded this season.
That team was an offensive machine and that is how they won the LaLiga Santander title.
Now the opposite is true. Zidane has flipped the script and exploited his team’s main strength in order to fight for the title.
Without Cristiano and having issues in front of goal, despite the offensive arsenal in the squad, the leading role has gone to the defence.
Real Madrid have scored just 60 goals in 32 LaLiga Santander matches – 46 less than 2016/17 – but have only conceded 21 goals – 41 in 2016/17.
As such, this has allowed Zidane to capitalise on the fewer goals scored. The 1-0 win against Espanyol is testament to this.
Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane had cemented their places in the team prior to the suspension of competition, and continue to be the main pillars for Zidane‘s backline.
Even with the increased frequency in matches, Zidane has stuck with those three in the five games since the resumption of LaLiga Santander.
The only defensive change has been at left-back, possibly because it is the best covered position in the Real Madrid squad.
Zidane has total confidence in Ferland Mendy and Marcelo, and rotates them without much issue.
In total, Carvajal has played 37 of Real Madrid’s 44 games this season;Ramos, 39 of 44;andVarane, 38 of 44, which demonstrates the absolute dominance they have had in the team this season.
Behind the defence is Thibaut Courtois, who has reached the galactic level of performance expected of him and has become one of the key figures in the Real Madrid team.
So much so, that he is leading the race for the Zamora Trophy and against Espanyol kept his 15th clean sheet of the campaign in LaLiga Santander. He has conceded just 18 times.
Courtois has entered Oblak territory and is close to snatching the Zamora crown from the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper, something which seemed like a mission impossible.
The difficult start to his Real Madrid career is well forgotten and he has become a wall. He was before the break, and continues to be so as in three of the five games since the restart he has only conceded twice.
Another piece of Zidane new formula in creating an impenetrable Real Madrid is Casemiro.
Like Courtois, Ramos, Carvajal and Varane, he is untouchable. Even more so than the aforementioned because there isn’t a natural replacement in the Real Madrid squad.
Casemiro is unique and the performances he is displaying right now make him arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world.
Not only is he the best at shielding a defence, as was shown against Espanyol he is decisive in the opposition area. He already has five goals this season, and his strike in the RCDE Stadium earned Los Blancos three vital points.