Zinedine Zidane finally has his first Liga as a coach. You don’t need to look for a good few weeks in the calendar to justify the leadership of Real Madrid since the Frenchman took over. Just take a look at the history and see how Los Blancos are the champion of the 2016-17 season; champions who were leading on the first day of the league and ended in the same way. Zinedine Zidane’s conquest is very much underrated; this is Madrid’s first La Liga and Champions League double since the 1957/58 season. How did he make Madrid such bloodhounds for victory? It all happened gradually.
The first sign came with the appearance of Asensio and the three points conquered in Anoeta. Real Madrid lined up without Bale, but Zidane gave the first brushstrokes to the gesture that would mark the season and that is none other than the demonstration that this was a team and that he counted with all his players. In the match against Real Sociedad, Asensio, Kovacic, and Morata were titular, and later Lucas Vázquez, James (who is now subject to an imminent departure) and Isco showed up big time. Does that ring any bells?
In November came the next big step. One visit to the Calderón Stadium and a dominant 3-0 victory to Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo needed to provide a good performance and he answered his critics with three goals. The Portuguese came to the rojiblanco stadium with doubts clouding his dynasty, but all were dissipated after his hat-trick, playing in a line-up with absentees and starters like Nacho, Lucas Vázquez, and Kovacic.
The next big moments came from the leadership of Sergio Ramos and his spectacular appearances when the Royal Whites were in need. Barcelona, Deportivo, Málaga and Betis bore witness to how a defender can become an unbalancing factor in attack with Ramos’ appearances on the ball. The draw at Camp Nou meant a lot as it was the defeat of the direct rival, and the goal against Deportivo just before traveling to Yokohama raised the mood of Real Madrid and further assisted its run of consecutive games with no defeats.
In Eibar, Zidane decided that the first team, the A team or whatever you want to call it, was not enough to compete in the league and Champions League simultaneously. Isco and Asensio, plus the cameo appearances of players like Nacho and Lucas Vázquez were definitive. On the 4th of March, after a hot week of meetings in the locker room, the French coach decided to give a chance to the second team. They responded by destroying the league’s revelation team, something they repeated against Leganés, Deportivo, Sporting and Granada. 15 points and oxygen for the so-called titular players. This move from Zidane can not be called rotation. It goes further, and over time has been key in their conquest of the league and UCL double.
The final moment came in the last stretch of the league fixtures. With Barcelona relentlessly pursuing Real Madrid, Los Blancos could give no chance to speculation or doubt. Solvency and safety sealed the 33rd League, a championship that the Madridismo needed and that Real Madrid had been lazy to conquer until Zinedine Zidane arrived.
The Frenchman did an excellent work managing all his players. From pre-season he imposed a discourse and fulfilled it to the extreme:
“I will need everyone. A League is won with all the 24 players in the squad.”
He learned to dose efforts by rotating players, and gave life to what we have been calling the ‘second team’ and has kept them all plugged in and active until the end. That is the most complicated thing for a coach and Zizou did it brilliantly. This methodical and intelligent administration of the dressing room, having convinced Cristiano to learn to dose and strengthening the physical plot with the signing of Antonio Pintus, physical trainer, are several of the key decisions made by the Frenchman that have guided Madrid to its 33rd league title and its back-to-back Champions League glory.