The three best Real Madrid lineups of the season so far

Real Madrid (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Real Madrid (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid‘s squad for the 2020-21 season, despite the club not signing new players, did see a few additions. Manager Zinedine Zidane called Martin Odegaard back from Real Sociedad, and the likes of Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio, Luka Jovic, and Eder Militao were welcomed once again as reinforcements.

Los Blancos did win the 2019-20 La Liga season. However, the team looked far from convincing. The problems generally lied in their offensive gameplan. They were a team dependent far too much on Karim Benzema and captain Sergio Ramos. So, naturally, Zidane had to fix his side’s offence.

The fixing, however, required, a lot more time than given in the pre-season. Zidane, forced to experiment a lot with his attacking players, fielded a new lineup almost every game of the first few match weeks. It was only after the defeats against Deportivo Alves and Shakhtar Donetsk that Zidane stopped the heavy rotations.

Zidane, upon requests from several senior members of the squad, started fielding his trusted individuals. And the results now seem to have started coming their way. Except for the setbacks against Athletic Club in the Super Cup and Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey, Los Blancos have dropped points just twice in the past nine games.

I take a look at the Frenchman’s three best lineups. One notable absentee from these lineups is Eden Hazard. Hazard hasn’t had the chance of starting with a consistent lineup. Injuries to key defenders and midfielders have seen Hazard play in a different lineup every time he started a game this season. The only lineup he has started in for more than once has been far from convincing. It has suffered a loss against Athletic Club and drew a game against Osasuna.

3) The two striker system

Zidane’s go-to lineup for any big game in his first spell had two strikers playing in front of a diamond midfield. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema started in front of Isco, Luka Modric, Kroos, and Casemiro. The two striker system was rewarding as it played to the strengths of the individuals.

However, the departure of Ronaldo and the regression of Isco has changed Zidane’s mind. The French manager doesn’t seem too keen on playing the system as much as he did in his first spell. In his first full season on return, he did not use the system as much as he should have, and the trend has followed this season as well. And this is when the team has performed the best in the little time it had two strikers upfront.

Based on the data from, Real Madrid’s highest recorded xG for a game (3.6) this season was when Luka Jovic started with Karim Benzema with Odegaard deployed in the playmaker role. The only other game in which Zidane started two strikers upfront also recorded a high xG performance (2.2).

Zidane’s men score a goal every 48 minutes when shaped up in a two striker system this season, as per The team benefits defensively as well. As per, the xGA90 (xG against per 90 minutes) drops down from 0.96 to 0.92.

The data approves of the two striker system. However, the sample size of the data is small. And with Jovic gone, we would never get to know how good we could have been with him and Benzema starting together.

This lineup also gives a place to Fede Valverde in the team. Valverde was influential in revitalising the team in the previous season’s title race through his performances. The Uruguayan started the season on a similar note. However, injuries and Zidane over-relying on his old guard has left Valverde with opportunities hard to come by.

2) Asensio on the LW and Vazquez on the RW

Marco Asensio is a special player. He is one of the best attacking talents in La Liga when fully fit and in form. Ever since the ACL tear, he has struggled to get into the starting eleven and perform consistently.

The Spaniard was without any offensive output to show from his first nine starts for Los Blancos in all competitions. Low on confidence and disappointed with the limited opportunities, it never looked like we would get to see the player Asensio has the potential to be.

But credit to Zidane, the manager didn’t give up on one of his favourite players, and Asensio started repaying his manager through goals and assists. The Spaniard, playing on the left of Benzema, has been the best crosser of the ball in the team.

Asensio’s crossing from the left coupled with Lucas Vazquez’s assurance on the right made Zidane’s team look formidable in the attack. The game against Celta Vigo on Matchday 17 was one of the best games played by this lineup.

1) Vinicius on the LW

Vinicius Junior has been the best winger for Zidane this season, statistically speaking. He boasts an xG90 (xG per 90 minutes this season) of 0.48, the highest of all the players that remain at the club post-Jovic’s departure. His (xG+xA)90 is 0.59, bested only by Rodrygo (0.68) and Jovic. Yes, Jovic was the one with the highest xG90 (0.67) and highest (xG+xA)90 (0.75)! One more reason why he should have played more.

The focus in Real Madrid’s attack has always been on the left wing. The club, since Eden Hazard’s arrival, has considered the left wing his. However, the former Chelsea talisman has never really arrived. And in the misfortunes of Hazard, Vinicius has thrived. Whenever given a run of games on the left wing, the Brazilian has proved to be the X-factor for Real Madrid’s attack.

However, the player still doesn’t seem to have won the confidence of his manager. Zidane doesn’t approve of Vinicius yet. And the frustrating fact behind it is nobody knows why. Vinicius gives his all when given an opportunity, whether it is to be in the attacking third of the defensive. He leads the team’s forwards in both offensive and defensive numbers. The Brazilian is one of the best progressors of the ball this season in the league.

Eden Hazard, on his day, can be one of the top-three attackers of the league. However, his days are yet to come in a Real Madrid jersey. And to keep taking crucial minutes away from Vinicius seems a bit too harsh on the player. It is stalling his growth, and the player won’t reach the potential he is destined to unless he plays regularly.

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There have been various games in which a timely Vinicius introduction could have saved Real Madrid from dropping points in the league. The sooner Zidane realises it, the better it would be for the team. Zidane doesn’t have to bench Hazard to play Vinicius. He either has to find a way of putting the two together on the field or share the minutes equally between them.