Zidane will go down as perhaps most decorated Real Madrid Manager. He has won 8 trophies in a span of 2 seasons. Zinedine Zidane is not a manager who is known for his tactical excellence. The main reason why Florentino Perez appointed him as the manager was because Zidane had the Los Blancos DNA in him having played for the club and also having managed Madrid’s Castilla side. Over the past 2 seasons, Real Madrid under Zidane has been doing what they do the best, and that is to play attacking football. We have possibly witnessed the strongest Real Madrid side, having become the first team to win back to back Champions League and Club World Cup titles.
But what happens when Real Madrid move away from the very essence of their Playing style?. This is what the world witnessed during the 3-0 humiliation they faced in the hands of their Arch Rivals FC Barcelona in front of their home fans at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Ernesto Valverde picked the lineup we all expected with Thomas Vermaelen in defense and Paulinho as an extra midfielder. Zidane, on the other hand, did not pick Isco, Asensio or Gareth Bale, but instead choose to play Mateo Kovačić. Kovacic’s specific role was to man-mark Messi, which is the most intriguing part of the game tactically.
Kovačić is a player that can defend well and Messi is Barcelona’s best player. The Catalans have relied time and again on Messi scoring goals and creating chances. If you can successfully neutralize Messi, you can nine times out of ten, neutralize Barcelona.
Valverde’s Barcelona absorbed all the pressure that was exerted by Zidane’s men, Barcelona defended deep in their own half. Ronaldo missed a sitter and Benzema hit the post. Gerard Pique was imperious at the back as were his fellow defenders and Marc-André Ter Stegen in the goal was brilliant.
In the second half, Madrid seemed to be drained out. The trip to the Club World Cup played its part. It looked like Zidane was hoping to use up energy in the first half. Recharge at the start of the second, and then go in for the win with the likes of Bale, Isco and Marco Asensio around the hour mark.
Valverde saw through Zidane’s plan and ordered his men to push forward. The first goal was almost comical in how it showed the weakness of the strategy.
Ivan Rakitić was surging forward with the ball. Kovačić opted to run away from his fellow Croatian and stick to Messi. Rakitić to picked out Sergi Roberto, who assisted Luis Suárez’s opener.
From there on Real Madrid fell apart and after Carvajal conceded the Penalty, it was game over for Real Madrid.
Some would say that Kovačić’s man-marking was “working” in the first half, but I have to disagree. Messi created chances in the first half. In fact, he created as many chances as the Los Blancos did in the whole match. Messi played a role in both the first goal and then the second goal. Which means the strategy wasn’t working and clearly led to the result.
It would’ve been better if Zidane would’ve stuck to Real Madrid’s attacking way of play and started either Isco or Asensio instead of Kovacic. Isco and Asensio have pace, a trait which none of the 4 Barcelona Mid-fielders possess. This would’ve caused more Instability in the Barcelona Midfield. With Isco or Asensio making runs into the Barcelona box, Real Madrid could’ve created more goal scoring chances.
The very fact that Zidane decided to take a more defensive approach by man marking almost each and every Barcelona player is intriguing. Many teams have tried this tactic against Barcelona and have failed and Zidane of all people should’ve known about it.
Marca says that the plan to man-mark Messi using Kovacic was scripted almost a fortnight before the El Clasico and when Kovacic was confirmed fit for the Clasico, Zidane made up his mind to play him in the Clasico, therefore, Isco knew days beforehand that he was going to be benched in the Clasico.
There were rumors that Isco is unsettled at the Los Blancos camp due to Zidane’s decision of not playing him in the Clasico. These rumors are completely baseless and the player himself has denied this from his twitter handle.
The video is below is the perfect explanation of the Tactical battle that took place in the Clasico.