Even though he can call upon arguably the biggest collection of top-class wingers in the world, the wide positions are something of a problem for Zinedine Zidane to ponder as Real Madrid head into their mini-break enforced by the postponement of this weekend’s Clasico.
The strength in depth at Zidane’s disposal is ridiculous. As well as two of the most expensive players in history, Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale, the French coach’s squad also contains three of the world’s most highly-rated rising youngsters in the form of Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo Goes and Brahim Diaz.
Then there is Spanish football’s former golden boy Marco Asensio, who is missing the first few months of the season through injury, along with one of Zidane’s most-used players, Lucas Vazquez. And you can also throw into the mix a couple of proven performers who possess the versatility to play either in midfield out wide, Isco and James Rodriguez.
So there you have it…nine players to fill just two positions. No wonder another rising star, Take Kubo, decided to head out on loan to Mallorca rather than attempting to compete with that lot after his arrival this summer.
The problem, however, is that none of that nine-tet (no, we don’t think that’s a word either) are really, to use an old footballing phrase, pulling up trees.
Bale, it’s fair to say, has been the pick of the bunch so far this season, overcoming a turbulent summer and a patchy (to say the least) relationship with his manager to register two goals and two assists from the right flank.
But the thorny old issue of Bale’s physical frailty has reemerged after he returned from international duty injured, again, and all things considered it’s hard to envisage his status as an unquestioned starter remaining unchallenged over the full course of the campaign.
On the other side of the pitch, it cannot be denied that Eden Hazard has endured a slow start to his life as a Madridista.
Just one goal by the end of October was certainly not what anyone expected when the Belgian ace was manoeuvred away from Chelsea for a €100 million fee, and Hazard will be under heavy pressure to maintain his recent improvement – including a bright showing against Galatasaray on Tuesday night – when Real return to action next Wednesday against near neighbours Leganes.
Of the other options, nobody has really stood out. Vazquez was jeered by a few Real fans – and mercilessly mocked on social media – after a poor run of form a few weeks ago, Isco looks a shadow of the player who shone during his team’s league and European double a couple of years ago, James has been more needed in midfield, Vinicius continues to combine dazzling approach play with wasteful end product and Diaz has barely been given a kick.
The lack of convincing performances from his various options meant that Zidane felt compelled to head into Tuesday’s game at Galatasaray – an absolute must-win contest both for Zidane’s survival at the helm and his team’s in the Champions League – by handing a first senior start to Rodrygo, a talented but extremely raw teenager who was very much signed as one for the future and expected to spend the season maturing with the club’s B team, Castilla.
This desperate move from the coach was vindicated by a decent enough performance from the 18 year-old, but over the remainder of the campaign Zidane will need more than just a short-term ‘cross your fingers and hope’ measure. To challenge for top honours, he will need his creative players on the wings to provide week-in, week-out excellence, not occasional flashes of brilliance allied with regular downturns which can be forgiven on the grounds of inexperience.
Rodrygo, Vinicius and Diaz should be impact players, relied upon for bursts of inspiration from the bench rather than carrying great expectations upon their shoulders. It would be unfair, and unrealistic, to expect any more from teenagers who are just making their way as professionals.
Hazard, Bale, Isco and James, supported by the industrious if limited Vazquez, need to be the main men for Zidane on the flanks – supported by Asensio when he returns to fitness.
So far, none of them, with the exception of Bale, have really been pulling their weight. That needs to change – and soon.
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