Michel Platini once said that the best football match he’d seen in his life was the 2011 Club World Cup final between Barcelona and Santos. I didn’t watch that game live but I remember it well, and I remember three things in particular: Neymar was playing for Santos, Barcelona didn’t play with a striker, and it was one of the best performances I’ve seen in a final. Barcelona won 4-0 but they could’ve won 8-0 and, forgive my repetition, they played without a striker. I remember it because it was on this day that I knew Pep Guardiola was a genius.
Just because I don’t consider Zinedine Zidane a genius in the dugout like Guardiola doesn’t mean I can’t recognise his work in his second stint in charge of Real Madrid that is bringing praise his way and that isn’t bringing up as much criticism as he received in July. I admit: I doubted his ability to come back and build a well-balance and competitive Real Madrid after the various signs of exhaustion from the players last season, but he’s done it. Forgive me, Zidane. I won’t doubt you again.
On Wednesday, Zidane again showed us his ability to find solutions where the majority would see problems. Don’t have your three main attackers? Play with five midfielders. Lacking goals? Make it about playing football. This chameleonic ability to play various different styles is as important as intensity and various players find themselves in good form: Thibaut Courtois, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Fede Valverde, Karim Benzema… While I saw Real Madrid dance around Valencia with an associative style, with constant support, at times it reminded me of that marvellous Guardiola side at Barcelona; I thought that this team with Eden Hazard could aspire to win everything. Whether he’s a genius or not, Zidane is performing magic with this Real Madrid team.