Diego Simeone appeared to have perfected a defence-first approach at Atletico Madrid.
However, Zinedine Zidane’s work with Real Madrid this season has seemingly been based on the same philosophy and is reaping far greater rewards.
LaLiga leaders Madrid will hope to open a six-point lead over Barcelona when they entertain local rivals Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.
With the help of Opta, we look at the impressive numbers behind Los Blancos’ miserly defence.
A sluggish start
It was not an ideal start for Zidane when he returned for a second stint as coach last March.
A 4-1 win over Real Valladolid was not enough for Santiago Solari to keep his job following back-to-back home defeats to Barcelona and a shock Champions League last-16 exit to Ajax.
Zidane struggled to find consistency in the closing stages of the season and only managed five wins in his 11 LaLiga games at the helm.
During that time frame, Madrid appeared to increasingly struggle defensively. They saw their average goals conceded per game rise from 1.19 to 1.27 and they faced 0.5 more shots per game (up to 4.09 from 3.59).
Zidane has now won 10 trophies as @realmadriden manager.
— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) January 13, 2020
Madrid kept just three clean sheets under Zidane last season, but they are already up to 11 in 21 LaLiga games this term. That is one more than Atletico.
Having let in 14 goals as Zidane saw out the end of the 2018-19 campaign, they have improved dramatically with just 13 put past them this term – the fewest of any teams in the top five European leagues and their best record after 21 matches since 1988.
Madrid’s expected goals conceded is 19.75, meaning they have let in 6.75 fewer than anticipated, highlighting some good work from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The only teams in LaLiga with a better differential this season are Real Valladolid (-10.11) and Levante (-7.44), but they conceded more than Madrid at 24 and 32 respectively.
Greater defensive work has seen the number of shots Madrid are facing decrease from 9.91 per game under Zidane last term – and 10.24 across the whole campaign – to 8.48, a tally only Getafe (7.57) and Manchester City (7.63) have faced fewer than in the top five European leagues.
When only efforts that hit the target are taken into account, Madrid have been troubled by just 2.62 every 90 minutes this season – the lowest in the continent’s leading divisions. Atletico face just 2.86 per match.
13 – Real Madrid have only conceded 13 goals in 21 games played in @LaLigaEN this season, their lowest figure at this stage in the top-flight ever level with 1964/65 & 1987/88 seasons. Bolt@realmadriden pic.twitter.com/xilUnxT9YD
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 27, 2020
Attack as a form of defence?
Madrid have seen their average possession dip slightly since Zidane took over, but it has remained at just above 58 per cent under the Frenchman.
They are seemingly reaping the rewards of playing with greater intensity higher up the pitch – they have won possession in the final third 5.38 times per game this season, an increase from 4.09 in Zidane’s first 11 games in charge.
Madrid are averaging more shots than any team in LaLiga at 17.89 per game, with 6.43 of those hitting the target – another league high.
3- Real Madrid haven’t faced a shot on target in three games in #LaLiga this season, more than any other team in the Top 5 European Leagues: vs Sevilla at Sánchez-Pizjuán, vs Osasuna at home & vs Real Valladolid at Nuevo José Zorrilla. Calm#ValladolidRealMadrid #LaLigaSantander pic.twitter.com/j15kVWnCct
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 26, 2020
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