It’s here, the new season is upon us. Real Madrid travel to the Reale Arena to face Real Sociedad in a game which could set the tempo for the remainder of the season. It certainly won’t be an easy season opener for the defending champions, but perhaps it’s a good time to get a usually difficult game for Los Blancos out of the way nice and early. One thing for sure, there’s plenty to look forwards to, including:
The focus on Real Madrid’s attack
It’s no secret that Madrid have struggled to replace Cristiano Ronaldo’s impact at the business end of the pitch. This season will be the club’s third without their all-time record goalscorer, who statistically, made Madrid a completely different animal. During Ronaldo’s nine campaigns at Madrid, they averaged 106.66 goals per La Liga season, the lowest being 94 in 2017-18, his final year. That season also happens to be the only year during which Madrid failed to hit 100 goals in the nine years of Ronaldo leading the line. Compare that to the two seasons without the Portuguese star, and Madrid hit 63 in 2018-19, and 70 in 2019-20 – at an average of 66.5. That’s a drop of 40 goals per season, which isolates the biggest problem Zidane is facing since his return.
Last year, Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos were the only ones in double figures. For a central defender to be your team’s second leading scorer, that in itself is unacceptable for a club like Madrid, who are aspiring to compete on all fronts.
Zidane has talent at his disposal, it’s about how he utilises them. Players like Luka Jovic, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes have to feature a lot more this season, and the returns from injury of Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard should significantly improve Real’s impact up front.
Martin Ødegaard facing La Real
More immediately, we’ll have the opportunity to see Ødegaard return to the club which helped him develop into the player who Zidane deemed to be ready to play a key role for Madrid this season. Sociedad were heavily reliant on Ødegaard from a tactical sense. They played some of the best football in Europe, and up until the Covid-19 break, you could argue Ødegaard was the third best player in La Liga behind Lionel Messi and Benzema. His key attributes which helped Sociedad are the reasons for why Madrid needed to recall him.
The Norwegian thrives at creating big chances, playing through balls, progressive passing and most importantly, passes into the penalty area. Madrid really lacked penetration in the attacking third last season, the attackers would make an intelligent run, but there wasn’t anyone capable of threading it through or taking that risky option, and therefore, the ball would just be passed back for the move to be recycled and started again. With Ødegaard, this is something to look forwards to, because he needs no permission to do what he enjoys, and do what he does so well, he’ll create a lot of chances for Madrid’s attacking players.
Most importantly, because the 21-year old operates on the right hand side of the pitch, it’ll make Madrid a more complete side, and one able to have two overlapping full-backs, instead of just one. Dani Carvajal struggled to combine with the right-wing options last season, but hopefully, with the addition of Ødegaard, it’ll be a more all-round balanced side, which carries more penetration in the final third.
Will the defence remain as solid as last season?
Because Madrid failed to score as much as you would usually expect, last season, Zidane recognised the need of securing his side defensively, in order to make up for the lack of goals being scored. Madrid’s defence was historic, the best we’ve seen in decades, and with the addition of Fede Valverde, that took the pressure of Casemiro, who was back to being his best throughout La Liga.
The question is, is that sustainable? We’ll get our first glimpse of an answer against Sociedad later today. With La Real’s addition of David Silva to replace Ødegaard’s creativity, they still boast plenty of firepower. It’ll be a stern test for the defensive unit, which will probably be Carvajal and Ferland Mendy flanking Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. How Zidane sets-up in midfield will also impact how well Madrid defend. I think there’s an expectation for Madrid fans to see Zidane move away from his trusted midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, but I think there’s a good chance Zidane starts with these three, potentially, with Valverde too against La Real today.
There’s an argument about how sustainable the defensive structure of last season is, but I see no reason why it can’t remain solid. As long as Thibaut Courtois carries over his confidence and form of last season, it’ll all come down to the focus of the players, which is often the reason why Madrid conceded silly and unnecessary goals last season. But it goes without saying, for Madrid to retain the league title, the defence will have to be solid again, because it could once more be the difference between first and second.