Are Real Madrid going backwards? The numbers behind Zidane's first 199 games

By Sports Desk June 13, 2020

The return of LaLiga will be particularly special for Real Madrid as it will see Zinedine Zidane reach 200 games as head coach.

The former midfielder, now in his second spell in the dugout, is third on the all-time list of matches in charge of Los Blancos in all competitions, behind only Vicente del Bosque (246) and Miguel Munoz (605).

Few could argue against Zidane's achievements. Once the best footballer in the world, he guided Madrid to three consecutive Champions League triumphs – an unprecedented feat in the modern competition – along with seven other trophies, including two UEFA Super Cups, two Supercopas de Espana, two Club World Cups and the 2016-17 LaLiga title.

He has also won 131 of his 199 matches as Madrid boss, a record few contemporaries can match in European football. Add a few more to that tally before the end of this season, and a second LaLiga title could follow – provided they can overhaul Barcelona's two-point advantage at the top.

There are, however, some reasons to be concerned. While few Madridistas dispute Zidane's pedigree, there is an undeniable decline in the numbers since he first took over from Rafael Benitez in January 2015.

Using Opta data, we take a look at the state of play...

A SLIPPERY SLOPE

In simple terms, Madrid's results are, on average, on the decline.

Zidane secured 21 victories from 27 games in all competitions after taking charge in January 2016 – a win rate of 77.7 per cent. That has dropped year on year and now stands at 54 per cent if you combine the 11 games of last season, when he took over from Santiago Solari, and 39 games in 2019-20.

Defeats have crept up in number, from just two in 2015-16 to six this term, the peak being nine in 62 games in 2017-18.

Few were surprised when Solari was sacked last term, but he actually managed  22 wins from 32 games – a rate of 68.7 – and averaged more goals per game ( 2.21 compared to 1.86 ) than Zidane has since.

A BLUNT FORCE

Madrid fans have a certain expectation when it comes to attacking football, but those demands are not being fully satisfied.

Zidane's side averaged 2.6 goals per game in his first 27 matches in charge and that increased to 2.8 in 2016-17, when they scored 173 times in all competitions en route to a league and Champions League double. In the 50 games since his return last year, that average has dropped to 1.86.

Madrid's shot conversion rate during Zidane's second spell is 11.52 , again the lowest it has been with him in charge. So too are shots per game ( 16.14 ) and shots on target per game ( 6.16 ).

The obvious factor here is the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, who left for Juventus in 2018, but Madrid have also spent this season largely without Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard, while Luka Jovic has been a big disappointment. The burden has fallen almost solely on the shoulders of Karim Benzema, who has scored a commendable 19 in all competitions this term and created more chances than anyone else in LaLiga ( 44 ).

ON SOLID GROUND

It does seem the attack is where the problems lie. Defensively, Madrid are coping well enough.

Captain Sergio Ramos is now 34 and Marcelo appears past his best, but their defensive strength as a whole is on a similar level to previous seasons.

Since Zidane's return, Madrid have faced 9.4 shots per game on average, with 3.3 of those on target. Both of those are the lowest such figures seen under the Frenchman.

Madrid have only conceded 19 goals in LaLiga in 2019-20, which is the best record in the division. They are letting in fewer than a goal a game on average for the first time since 2015-16.

A few more goals at the other end could swing the season back in their favour.

PASSING THE BUCK

If the attack is to get firing again, better use of the ball is paramount.

Madrid average 58.39 per cent of possession in their games this season, which is in line with years gone by, as is their passing accuracy and passes-per-game rate. It's what they do with the ball that holds them back.

Including assists, they have created 635 chances since Zidane's return – a rate of 12.7 per game. That's the lowest it has been since before 2016.

Again, personnel problems have counted against Zidane. Hazard was signed from Chelsea for €100million to fill a creative void, but injuries have ruined his first season in Spain. Likewise, Asensio has been out since last May, James Rodriguez is out of favour, Isco has been in and out of the team and Luka Modric's top-level career looks to be winding down. Federico Valverde has been a revelation in midfield, but playmaking is not his forte.

It's not all doom and gloom, and it's certainly not all Zidane's fault, but he has some work to do if this is to be remembered as a successful – if strange – season, and if his next 200 games are to herald similar glory as his first.

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