Real Madrid are champions of Europe for the 11th time. Los Blancos won the Champions League trophy on Saturday night courtesy of a penalty shoot-out win over neighbours Atletico Madrid, after a 1-1 draw in normal and extra-time.
Looked far more solid than in the past
In the second half of the final, Real were under immense pressure, but defended stoutly in the face of a spirited Atletico Madrid comeback in the second half. The performance was not that of a typical Real Madrid team.
During the second half Los Blancos almost mirrored their neighbour’s style of play and incredibly by the end of normal time Diego Simeone’s side had the higher possession ratio, which is very rare for Atletico especially in big games.
For all Real Madrid’s quality it was their spirit and resilience that got them through to penalties and the victory. The likes of Marcelo and Gareth Bale struggled to finish the game, yet took penalties in the shoot-out.
This spirit was nowhere to be seen under former-boss Rafa Benitez. Boss Zinedine Zidane deserves immense credit for nurturing that spirit within the team. With the victory he becomes the first French boss to win the Champions League trophy.
Zidane is learning very quickly on the job
Zinedine Zidane is a football legend and is loved at the Bernabeu. However his appointment as Rafa Benitez’s replacement in the Los Blancos dugout in January was not met with universal approval by the fans or media.
In terms of experience he is a rookie boss having only managed Real’s reserve side Castilla. The Frenchman had also enjoyed a spell as Real Madrid assistant, which has probably stood him in good stead for taking on the big job.
What Zidane lacks in managerial experience, he makes up for in football knowledge and sheer respect from his players. The Frenchman just demands the respect of the players and they give him it because of who he was as a footballer and who he is as a person.
His tactical nous and substitutions may need a little work, as last night’s substitutions nearly had a disastrous effect, but he did make one key decision that has stabilised the team, which is the selection of Brazilian defensive midfielder Casemiro in his starting eleven.
The 24-year-old struggled to nail down a starting spot in Zidane’s early days at the club, but now he seems like a vital cog in the Real Madrid machine. Even Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone had praised the former-Porto star prior to the game.
In recent history Real Madrid had not favoured using a traditional defensive midfielder. Instead they have used a deep-lying playmaker like Toni Kroos. However the selection of Casemiro shows that Zidane is not just thinking about attack, attack, attack, but also the defensive side of the game.
Zidane’s win ratio of 77.78 per cent was probably expected, but as Gareth Bale stated after the final, the Frenchman has reinstalled confidence within the team and shown that he may just have some tactical acumen as well.
Zidane could be the man to overthrow Barcelona
Many more experienced bosses than Zidane have failed to win the big trophies at Real Madrid, or have won trophies and still lost their jobs at the Bernabeu for a number of reasons.
Politics, style of play or the club president simply not liking the boss have all been reasons for dismissal in the last two decades. The Real hierarchy cannot seem to help themselves when it comes to firing bosses.
The choice of Rafa Benitez as the club boss at the start of the campaign was the wrong one. He was never ‘Galactico’ enough to manage the current group egos, I mean players.
There will be many bosses linked with the club this summer, but for me Zidane has to be given the chance to overthrow arch-rivals Barcelona in La Liga.
For all their European glory, Real Madrid have won La Liga just once in the last eight seasons, as Barcelona have dominated the Spanish top-flight. One of the main problems has been a lack of continuity and the amount of changes in bosses.
Zidane has shown in his short time as Real Madrid boss that he has the ability to manage the highly-talented group of players at the club. He may well be the man to bring the Spanish title back to the Spanish capital.
However this is Real Madrid that we are talking about and the Frenchman will probably be replaced by another high-profile boss, who will once again fail to deliver domestic success. Good luck Zizou!
Will Zinedine Zidane be the Real Madrid boss next season?