January 7, 2017 9:05:56 pm
Real Madrid’s 5-0 thrashing of Granada on Saturday equalled a Spanish record of 39 games unbeaten in all competitions. Reuters Sport takes a look at the factors behind their run.
Sensible squad management
Zinedine Zidane has carefully shuffled his squad to cope with the demands of playing in five competitions this season, handing out over 900 minutes to 20 players, while no individual has exceeded 2,000 minutes.
This has meant the squad has stayed fresh, despite lengthy injuries to key players such as Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Casemiro.
“The great thing is that everyone is committed to the cause,” Zidane said this week.
“There’s no difference when players are out and that says a lot about the group.”
Goals from all over the pitch
The Spanish media used to criticise Real for their over-reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo for goals but the phrase ‘Cristiano-dependence’ has barely been uttered this year as the goals have been so evenly spread throughout the squad.
Twenty-one players have scored in competitive games this season, with 10 players netting at least twice. Ronaldo is still the top scorer with 16 goals in all competitions, Karim Benzema has 10, Alvaro Morata nine and Bale seven.
Seven of their eight defenders have also found the net with captain Ramos scoring five times and fellow centre-back Raphael Varane contributing four.
Refusing to admit defeat
Whether it was snatching the UEFA Super Cup from the hands of Sevilla, rescuing a vital draw at Barcelona or turning certain defeats by Deportivo La Coruna and Sporting Lisbon into last-gasp victories, Real have managed time and time again to conjure up late goals during this campaign.
Zidane’s side have scored 10 decisive goals in the final 10 minutes across eight games, striking fear into their opponents as the minutes tick away.
Captain Ramos is their late goal specialist, heading in the equaliser in the Super Cup final and at the Nou Camp, and hitting the winner against Deportivo, all in stoppage time.
The Zidane factor
Already a modern club great for his graceful skills as a midfielder and his sumptuous volley to win the 2002 Champions League, Zidane has further cemented his place in Real folklore with his achievements in the dugout.
He took little time to win over a dressing-room that had become stale and demotivated under his predecessor Rafael Benitez, impressing them with his charisma and personal touch.
“Everyone respects him as a football and a man and now as a coach. He’s just got that aura about him. Whatever he says everyone really just drools over his words,” Bale said.
Zidane has also dealt expertly with the famously overbearing Spanish media, frequently responding to difficult questions with a smile and refusing to be drawn into controversial situations.
Despite the wealth of talent and number of big names in the squad, this team do not appear to suffer from the egoism that affected previous Real sides, such as the ‘Galactico’ side which Zidane played in.
The coach has been unafraid of dropping players such as 80 million euro signing James Rodriguez and has even managed to convince Ronaldo of the need to rest occasionally to ensure he stays in prime condition, a clear sign of the authority he commands in the dressing-room.
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