Zidane’s new Plan A

It’s been just over two months since Zinedine Zidane’s new project got underway, with Real Madrid having played 10 games in LaLiga Santander and three in the Champions League, and that journey has helped the Frenchman discover his ideal starting line-up.

For the first time this season, Zidane named the same XI when Real Madrid took on Leganes at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night, with being the same set of players who won 1-0 away at Galatasaray a week before.

As such, it appears as though the Real Madrid head coach has his go-to starting line-up, although he refuted that in his pre-match press conference on Friday.

“It bothers me when people say that there is a Plan A or a Plan B – I’m counting on all of the players,” Zidane said.

There are some who started against Leganes and Galatasaray that were part of the side that won three successive Champions Leagues between 2016 and 2018, but there are a couple of new faces, too.

Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois have, in theory, replaced Cristiano Ronaldo and Keylor Navas, while Rodrygo Goes and Fede Valverde have also managed to establish themselves in Zidane’s go-to starting line-up.

Starting in goal, Courtois seems to be finally able to breathe more peacefully after keeping back-to-back clean sheets and making some important saves.

In defence, Zidane was particularly pleased after the 5-0 win over Leganes as those at the back participated in three of Los Blancos’ five goals.

Marcelo has started to rediscover his form, having started the season in same way as the previous campaign, and he has now started the last three games.

Dani Carvajal, meanwhile, is also looking more improved, and at centre-back the partnership of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane remains intact.

There has been a slight change in midfield as Valverde has taken advantage of Luka Modric’s injuries to emerge as a starter, being named in the XI for the last two matches and playing at a very high level.

Toni Kroos has been one of Real Madrid’s best performers this season, banishing the demons he had last year, while Casemiro is untouchable at holding midfield.

Behind those four are Isco and James Rodriguez, who have been unable to crowbar their way into Zidane’s plans on a permanent basis.

It is in attack where Zidane has made the most changes, with Gareth Bale the latest to find himself out of the XI after his injury and trip to London for a private matter.

Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior continue to provide pressure for a starting spot, but the revelation of Rodrygo has not only brought goals but also an understanding of Los Blancos’ system, acting as the third attacker when they have the ball but dropping in as a fourth midfielder when possession is lost.

Then there are Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard, the two experienced members of the front three who add yet more quality.

At present, the likes of Isco, Luka Jovic and Lucas Vazquez are all struggling to hold down a starting role, although it is likely that some of them could feature against Real Betis on Saturday night as Zidane has played the same line-up in consecutive games and will have one eye on next Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Galatasaray.