Real Madrid have been crowned Spanish champions after a2-1 victory over Villarrealon Thursday night, taking the title with a run of 10 consecutive victories since action restarted last month.
It has been an impressive turnaround for Zinedine Zidane’s team, who finished 19 points behind Barcelona last season with virtually the same squad.
And the title triumph represents a new era forLos Blancos, who have become a very different team – for the better – since Zidane returned for his second tenure at theBernabeu last March.
Here’s how they did it.
Zizou masterminds defensive transformation
Zidane has always been hailed for his man-management abilities, with his regal aura allowing him to command respect and instil unity.
In the past, though, it was regularly suggested that the Frenchman was tactically weak, broadly limiting his strategy to sending out his best players and trusting them to find their own solutions.
That resulted in an inconsistent team, capable of turning on the style often enough to win three consecutive Champions League crowns but unable to withstand the game-by-game rigours of an arduous league campaign.
After finishing miles behind Barcelona in the past two title races, though, Zidane identified his team’s weaknesses and rectified them.
Essentially, Real have become far more compact, leaving less space for opponents to exploit and working together with a collective determination to protect their goal. In contrast to the cavalier style of recent years, which always left them vulnerable, they are now perfectly balanced and very difficult to score against.
As a result, they boast the best defensive record in La Liga, having conceded just 23 goals in 37 league games – almost halving the number of goals they allowed in the previous two campaigns (46 last season, 44 in 2017-18).
That has been achieved partly through excellent individual performances: Ferland Mendy has added greater defensive awareness at left-back; Raphael Varane has enjoyed the best season of his career; Thibaut Courtois is back to his best in goal; Sergio Ramos remains a ferociously competitive leader, and nobody protects a back four better than defensive midfielder Casemiro.
Far more important than individual form, though, is the collective mindset and tactical discipline instilled by Zidane throughout the team. This title, without doubt, has been built on defensive foundations.
Goals from everywhere
The team ethic is also reflected in the list of goalscorers, with 21 different players getting on the scoresheet over the league campaign – something never previously seen in La Liga.
Back-up defender Eder Militao and rarely used winger Brahim Diaz are the only outfield players who haven’t scored.
In a way, this reflects badly on the team’s forwards, none of whom have mustered more than three league goals except Karim Benzema. The second-highest scorer is captain Ramos, who has netted six of his 10 goals from the penalty spot, followed by midfielders Toni Kroos and Casemiro with four apiece.
But that has not mattered because, in the same way that everyone has been responsible for the defensive improvement rather than just the back four, Zidane encourages every player to get them