Real Madrid are La Liga Champions for the season 2019-20 after they won against Villareal 2-1 at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano on Thursday night. Karim Benzema opened the scoresheet for Madrid scoring from an assist by Luka Modric. The second goal was also scored by him with a dramatic penalty on 77th minute. Karim Benzema who has been phenomenal this season has scored 21 goals in La Liga and is now 2 goals behind Lionel Messi from being the top scorer of La Liga. There was a chance of some last-minute drama when Vicente Iborra scored with a stunning header for Villareal on the 83rd minute, and Thibaut Courtois had to do two brilliant saves to secure the victory. However, as it turned out, Real would have been Champions irrespective of the result as Barcelona lost to Osasuna at the Camp Nou as well.
An astonishing turnaround in the title race
Before the Covid-19 break, Real Madrid were sitting second on the table, two points behind leaders Barcelona. Real Madrid post the Covid-19 break won consecutive 10 matches to win the title while Barca failed to keep up the tempo. Barcelona dropped points against Sevilla, Celta Vigo and Atletico Madrid after the break, on the other hand, Real Madrid won all of their matches and took a 4 points lead before the match against Villareal. Real Madrid needed two points from remaining two matches to secure the title, but Zinedine Zidane made sure they win the trophy on matchday 37. Zidane made it clear on the pre-match press conference that his team is only focused to win and they will do everything for it
“We’re here for one thing; to win tomorrow’s game. That’s what motivates us and we prepare for that, nothing more. Tomorrow we’re going to go out to give it our all, like we do in every game, and our opponents will do the same. We have to focus on tomorrow’s match, it’s going to be tough”Zinedine Zidane on Press Conference before Villareal match
From the first minute, their attitude in the game was very clear, and they wanted nothing but victory. Madrid created consecutive chances and dominated the match in the opposition final third. The breakthrough arrived on 29th minute with Benzema’s goal following a great ball recovery by Casemiro and then great play by Luka Modric, who assisted Benzema.
The second goal was scored in rather dramatic fashion following another ball recovery, this time by Captain Sergio Ramos who ran forward smelling blood, and was brought down in the penalty box, resulting in a penalty in favour of Madrid. Ramos took the penalty and tried a Cryuff as he passed it to Benzema to put it away. However, referee Hernandez Hernandez ordered the penalty to be retaken, this time Benzema took it and scored. It seemed as if the team wanted to help Benzema get closer to Messi in the Pichichi race, and deservingly so. Madridistas all around the world were eagerly waiting for the match to end and started celebrating right after the goal from Benzema. The trophy was already brought at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano before the match by the representatives of RFEF, and Real Madrid was presented with the trophy after their victory.
As Real Madrid are La Liga Champions once again, this is their record-extending 34th La Liga title and 2nd for Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid manager. In his second spell as Madrid manager, Zidane has again won the La Liga on his first full season, just like he did in his first spell when Real Madrid won their 33rd title in 2016/17.
How did Zidane fix Real Madrid after last season’s disaster?
After a horrible performance last season Real Madrid finished the league at 3rd position, 19 points behind winners FC Barcelona and 8 points behind their city rival Atletico Madrid. They were also knocked out by Ajax from Champions League in Round of 16 and lost in Copa Del Rey semi-final by arch-rival Barcelona. Real Madrid suffered a lot after the departure of their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo and manager Zinedine Zidane before the beginning of 2018/19 season. Madrid giants appointed two managers – Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari before Zidane returned to the dugout in March 2019. Real Madrid suffered from inconsistency, injuries, lack of confidence and the fans were getting impatient. Even when Zidane was reappointed as the manager at the end of the season, they were already out of Champions League and Copa Del Rey and they had no hope to win La Liga either. It was already about the next season, which was 2019-20.
However, from the beginning of this season Zidane he made it very clear that his primary objective will be to win the league title. As a part of the re-building project, Los Blancos made some big money signings including Eden Hazard, Luca Jovic and Ferland Mendy. Zidane suffered a set back when one of their key player Marco Asensio suffered an ACL rupture during pre-season and got out of the game for almost 10 months. Their marque signing Eden Hazard was also injured before the beginning of the season. Real Madrid started the season with a 3-1 away victory against Celta Vigo. Their initial matches were full of ups and downs, where the Madrid boss was trying to find out the best starting line up and the team was not settled yet. One of the biggest problems was the inconsistency of their first choice Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Courtois displayed poor performance in his first season 2018/19 as well and his mistakes cost Real Madrid many points. Madrid fans were obviously not too happy with him and were asking for a change. However, proving their doubters and haters wrong, Real Madrid are La Liga Champions currently. Let’s take a look at how the mastermind Zidane took his team to the title this season.
The defence redemption
The first masterstroke by Zizou was to help Courtois recover his best form and bring out the performance that made him World Cup Golden Gloves winner in 2018. In order to do so, Zidane realised that Courtois wasn’t being able to adapt with Real Madrid’s style of playing with a high defensive line. So the Madrid boss first adjusted his teams’ defence line to suit with Courtois’s playing style. Courtois is a great shot-stopper, but his outing technique had some flaws that lead him to concede many goals, which eventually settled when Real Madrid started to play with a low defensive line. Zidane also included Ferland Mendy in the Left Back position replacing Marcelo. Marcelo was not that strong in defence recently and giving too much space on the left side, which was being exploited by the opponents on the counter. Inclusion of Mendy provided defensive solidity that overall improved Real Madrid’s defensive record this season. With these changes, Real Madrid conceded just 23 goals in 37 matches so far, which is the best defensive record in La Liga as well as in top 5 European leagues this season. Also, Thibaut Courtois has conceded just 20 goals in 33 appearances in La Liga while he managed to keep 18 clean sheets and is now almost has the Zamora Trophy in his grabs. Solid defence was key to this success as Real Madrid are La Liga Champions this time without the goal-machine Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Valverde masterclass
Another important tactical change by Zidane was including Federico Valverde in the starting line up. At the beginning of the season, Zidane replaced Luka Modric by Fede Valverde in the starting XI. Modric is 34 years old, and Zidane realised he doesn’t possess the stamina to play full time in every match. Instead, he opted to use Modric as super-sub or in selective matches. On the other hand, Valverde showed a strong performance throughout the season, whenever he got the opportunity. His playing style is completely different from Modric, and he offered more energy on the pitch. Valverde played as a box to box midfielder who provided more defensive support than Modric and contributed in attack as well. With this change, Modric got enough rest and Zidane could also use him to start in selective matches or bring him on the field in the second half where he delivered world-class performance – which was missing last season due to the lack of rest.
However, after the COVID-19 break, Valverde couldn’t continue his form like the first half of the season, and Modric rose to the occassion as he was world-class in pretty much every match. He created many scoring opportunities, as well as providing defensive support.
The rotation planner
The last and most important trick by Zidane was to rotate his squad efficiently. Instead of many injury problems throughout the season, Zidane managed to keep the performance of his team always high. While Madrid’s new no. 7 Eden Hazard has been in and out of the squad due to multiple injuries throughout the season, Zidane used two youngsters Vinicius and Rodrygo to fill the gap. Vinicius, who had shown a lot of promises during last season and Rodrygo who joined the team this season has been great for the team and performed whenever the team required. Zidane pretty much used every player he had available, whenever he could. Real Madrid had 21 different scorers in La Liga this season, that’s a record in a top 5 European Leagues for the season. That just proves the great squad depth of Real Madrid, which was utilised well by Zidane.
Real Madrid are La Liga Champions: What is the next target?
Coming a long way from being disastrous last season, now Real Madrid are La Liga Champions. But there is still a long way to go for Zinedine Zidane and his boys, as we expect so much more from them. After Zidane took the charge of Madrid’s dressing room last season, he stated that this team needs rebuilding and it is gonna take a while. With the key players of team like Ramos, Modric, Benzema, Marcelo are at their thirties, Real Madrid is looking forward to building a squad for future. Which is why they have concentrated on signing promising young players from different parts of the world. Vinicius, Rodrygo, Jovic, Kubo, Renier, Valverde, Odegaard, Mendy, Militao are all part of that plan, and so far it has been great seeing them. With the big-money signing of Kylian Mbappe still very much possible, and signing Eduardo Camavinga from Rennes will likely be the next step in terms of signings. However, there will be no big signings this window, president Florentino Perez has confirmed as they tackle the Covid-19 crisis. They are currently going through a sort of transition period and Zinedine Zidane is the best man to handle the transition. But winning the La Liga title on the first season of this transition is a great achievement, even by their standards. With still one match left to play in La Liga, Zidane would probably like to rotate the squad again on next match and give a chance to players like Brahim Diaz, Mariano or James Rodriguez who has played comparatively fewer matches this season. Nonetheless, they still have a UEFA Champions League title to fight for and Zidane surely would like to recheck all the weapons in his arsenal before the Champions League match.
Real Madrid will face Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on 7th August in UCL Round of 16 return leg, where they have to make a comeback against Pep Guardiola‘s team. Real Madrid suffered a 1-2 defeat at home in the first leg. After a La Liga victory, Zidane would surely eye the European title, which he has done so often, in fact, he has never been eliminated from the UCL in his managerial career so far. He would certainly like to extend that record.
What are your thoughts as Real Madrid are La Liga Champions? Let us know in the comment section below.