Real Madrid were denied a place in the history books on Wednesday after Villarreal left the Santiago Bernabeu with a well-deserved 1-1 draw.
Madrid went into the clash needing a victory to set a new record of 17 consecutive wins in Spain’s top flight. But Bruno Soriano’s first-half penalty put Zinedine ZIdane’s men on the back foot and the only response they could muster was a towering Sergio Ramos header three minutes after the restart.
Failure to find a winner, despite a late onslaught, and establish a new LaLiga mark was a rare hiccup in Zidane’s coaching career at Madrid. The Frenchman took over in January from Rafael Benitez and led the team to 12 straight wins to finish just a point behind Barcelona in last season’s title race before going on to claim the Champions League and UEFA Super Cup.
Zidane has built a formidable side capable of challenging again both domestically and in Europe in 2016-17. Here, Omnisport compares the current Real Madrid team with the finest in LaLiga history.
FRED PENTLAND’S ATHLETIC BILBAO (1929-33)
For a club with such fevered commitment to their Basque roots, it seems surprising that arguably their greatest ever period came under the stewardship of an Englishman.
Fred Pentland, a striker for Blackburn Rovers, Middlesbrough and England during his playing days, took up a coaching career with the German Olympic team before he was detained in a civilian prison camp in Berlin for the duration of the First World War.
After taking charge of Athletic in 1920, he revolutionised their way of playing, with his short passing style now sacrosanct at San Mames. He subsequently took them to Copa del Rey glory in 1923.
He left the club in 1925 and enjoyed spells with Atletico Madrid and Oviedo before returning in 1929, when he masterminded one of the great eras of LaLiga’s early years. Athletic claimed league and cup doubles in 1930 and 1931, before winning the Copa and securing second-placed league finishes in both 1932 and 1933. Their 12-1 thrashing of Barcelona in 1931 remains the reigning champions’ biggest ever defeat.
“With his cigar and bowler hat, he was an authentic celebrity in pre-war Bilbao,” Athletic proclaim proudly on their official website. His was certainly a side not to be forgotten.
MIGUEL MUNOZ’S REAL MADRID (1960-65)
Few individuals in world football can match the legacy set by Miguel Munoz as both player and coach for a single team.
The midfielder was part of the great Real Madrid side of the 1950s, winning four league titles and three European Cups and serving as club captain during a his time at the Santiago Bernabeu, in which he made 278 appearances.
His achievements in charge were even greater. Madrid won five league championships in a row from 1960 to 1965, playing a brand of attacking football revered the world over, led by the attacking triumvirate of Paco Gento, Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano.
Munoz claimed nine league titles, two Copas and two European Cups in a glittering 14-year spell in charge, but the stylish dominance of the early 1960s has rarely – if ever – been surpassed. It’s hardly surprising that he is still Madrid’s longest-serving boss.
JOHAN CRUYFF’S BARCELONA (1990-94)
Johan Cruyff, the most influential figure in Barcelona’s modern history, set up a side that remains the benchmark for football teams across the globe.
The ‘Total Football’ pioneer, who lost his battle with lung cancer in March, transformed Barca’s playing style and instilled a methodology in the esteemed La Masia academy that paved the way for their dominance over the last decade.
Cruyff’s own ‘Dream Team’ comprised a mixture of local talent, including Txiki Begiristain, Jose Maria Bakero and future head coach Pep Guardiola, as well as foreign imports of the calibre of Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov and Romario.
Between 1990 and 1994, Barca claimed four league titles in a row, three Spanish Supercopas, the UEFA Super Cup and a first European Cup, all the while playing with the control and panache for which Cruyff himself became a household name as a player.
“Your legacy will live on forever,” said Lionel Messi after Cruyff’s passing. There have certainly never been Barcelona teams of such all-round quality. Save one, perhaps.
PEP GUARDIOLA’S BARCELONA (2008-2012)
From Barcelona captain to the world’s most respected head coach, Pep Guardiola’s career was forged at Camp Nou and inspired by his time playing under Cruyff.
When he was appointed in 2008 to arrest the decline suffered during Frank Rijkaard’s final year in charge, it was hoped he could replicate the style and success of his mentor. Some would argue he surpassed it.
Barca claimed a first ever treble of league, cup and Champions League in Guardiola’s opening season, and they would go on to win a further 11 trophies before his shock departure at the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
With a team composed almost entirely of La Masia products, spearheaded by one of the greatest club players the world has seen in Lionel Messi, Barca married a riveting tiki-taka style of play with bucketloads of silverware. They also held the record for consecutive LaLiga wins – 16 – which was matched for the first time this year.
ZINEDINE ZIDANE’S REAL MADRID (2016-)
Given he only took charge in January, it feels something of a stretch to compare Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid with the greatest sides Spain has ever produced. He is, however, firmly on the right path.
Zidane, a club hero as a player, inherited a squad lacking in morale and motivation following Rafael Benitez’s ill-fated time in charge, during which Madrid had fallen well off the pace in LaLiga – thanks in part to a 4-0 hammering by Barca – and been kicked out of the Copa del Rey in embarrassing fashion for fielding Denis Cheryshev while he was suspended.
Zidane’s legacy as one of the greatest ever midfielders helped to get the squad firmly on his side, and removing the dull training drills that had so incensed Cristiano Ronaldo and his senior team-mates helped speed the process along. He set about transforming the team into a confident, attacking unit who, he said, would only be a success if they “run, run, run, run and run”.
There were some early jitters – a 1-0 loss to rivals Atletico Madrid saw Zidane tone down his attack-minded line-ups, and deploy Casemiro as an effective destroyer – but Madrid were a team transformed in the second half of the season. A run of 12 wins in a row, which included a 2-1 triumph at Camp Nou, saw them finish just a point behind Barca in the title race, before they went on to claim the Champions League with a shoot-out win over Atleti and the UEFA Super Cup against Sevilla.
Despite injury concerns to Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, and a largely disappointing transfer window, Madrid have continued to play with the same pace and solidity that underpinned Zidane’s early months in charge. While they missed out on a record 17th-straight win, they lead the title race by two points, with a notorious dressing-room having happily bought into the coach’s ideas. When the big guns are fit and firing again, he could create something really special.
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