Football Features

“Zinedine Zidane’s catalogue of bad decisions” cost Real Madrid big as they lose to Mallorca

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:27, 19 October 2019

In a shocking night of football, Mallorca upset Real Madrid to beat them 1-0 at Son Moix.

Los Blancos came into the game down in second place but with the knowledge that a win would put them back on top, two points ahead of their eternal rivals Barcelona. And with next weeks Clásico called off (well, as of writing who knows what ends up happening) there would be no chance for the Blaugrana to directly take the lead back anytime soon.

Basically, it was all in Madrid’s hands. Their fate was theirs to control, which is exactly where Los Blancos want things to be. And their task this weekend wasn’t exactly monstrous: Mallorca were 18th in the league and although they ended a run of three straight defeats by beating Espanyol just before the international break, Espanyol are 19th in the table so they’re not up to much themselves.

So this was damn near a gimmie as long as Zinedine Zidane plaid his cards right. Obviously the Madrid squad is hampered by injuries with plenty of men out of contention for the trip to the Son Moix. Even Eden Hazard was a late scratch due to the birth of his fourth child, so Madrid came to the island undermanned, but they were not outgunned.

They still had Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez, Isco and also Marcelo, Vinicus Jr. and Casemiro too. Not to mention the in-form Fede Valverde, the Uruguayan who had added so much balance to Madrid’s midfield unit.

So of course, Zinedine Zidane didn’t start Valverde. In fact he sent Real Madrid out against Mallorca playing a flat 4-4-2 formation that saw Vinicius Jr. and James Rodriguez as wingers and Isco playing central midfield alongside Casemiro. No, seriously. There’s playing your cards wrong and then there’s going all-in thinking that two pair beats three of a kind.

Zidane has always neglected the centre of midfield and created play through crosses on the flanks. Of course part of why he has been able to do that is that Luka Modric has always been available and has organised the midfield by himself whilst Toni Kroos’ passing make him deadly and Casemiro’s energy and tackling make him a superb balance to the German.

But Modric hasn’t really been around much these days, including today. And Kroos was missing as well. So when Zidane disregarded central midfield to play his crossing game, all that happened was that he allowed Mallorca to control the key central zone. And so when the Islanders took a shock early lead they were able to hold the ball better and play through Madrid whenever Los Blancos sent men forward in attack.

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Make no mistake, Mallorca played very well. Iddrisu Baba and Salva Sevilla ran the show in the middle of the park – with Baba recovering the ball a massive 13 times (a game-high). Whenever the ball was in his zone, Baba was the man to win it and get it away.

So Madrid did their usual thing and went wide. They sent Vinicius down the flanks and the young Brazilian tortured Joan Sastre so much so that Mallorca had to switch him to the left and then sub him off at half-time. But beyond Sastre, Madrid got no joy out of their opponents. Fran Gomez, a player who has been with Mallorca from the third tier of Spanish football, was even more dominant than Baba was.

Fran Gomez ended the night with eight tackles and six interceptions, both game highs. Whenever anyone tried to beat him for skill or for pace, he stood tall and won the ball back. Time and time again Vinicius and Marcelo tried him on, and almost every single time he repelled them. It was ridiculous to watch this guy who has truly risen up the football pyramid shut down this much-hyped prospect and one of the greatest left-backs of all-time. But it’s what happened.

So Madrid couldn’t get down the middle and couldn’t get down the flanks to energise their usual crossing tactic. Their midfield was unbalanced and by the time Fede Valverde did enter the field the match was over an hour old and the rhythm was already set. As a result the Uruguayan had a negligible impact on proceedings, especially as Alvaro Odriozola was sent off less than 10 minutes later.

Odriozola should have had a massive game but failed to have anything like the same offensive impact as even Marcelo and Vinicius Jr., and that was a big problem as Madrid had to send everything down the left. Odriozola was even a disaster defensively, exposed for Mallorca’s goal and then his red card hampered Madrid’s attempted comeback. Meanwhile Dani Carvajal is sitting back in Madrid, waiting for the Champions League game midweek.

The last time Real Madrid travelled to the island to face Mallorca was almost seven years ago to the day. Real Madrid obliterated them 0-5. This trip was far, far, far from that level and showed just how far Los Blancos have fallen. 2012/13, as a season, was much more disastrous for Real Madrid than 2019/20 has been so far (despite some performances) and yet look at the difference in level.

Madrid may have forced Iddrisu Baba and Fran Gomez to have impressive games, but even with a whole team full of gunslingers they had just four shots on target and never really stretched Manolo Reina in the Mallorca goal. That is atrocious.

This defeat marks Real Madrid’s first La Liga loss at the Son Moix since 2006, a game that Sergio Ramos and Zinedine Zidane both played in. Since then Los Blancos had been dominant on the island but tonight Zinedine Zidane’s catalogue of bad decisions and shocking misjudgements ended up recalling the horrendous nonsense of February 2006 when the original Galacticos were a shambling mess of a side. Now its his own Madrid side that look hollow and broken, and one wonders if he has what it takes to pull them together again.

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