Real Madrid: Zinedine Zidane’s best act of magic last season

Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images) /

It is said by Real Madrid fans that Zinedine Zidane is a practitioner of the dark arts, in reference to his ability to grind out difficult results, especially against other top teams in Europe. Zizou, as a manager, has this ability to get the most out of his squad and players, no matter who is in the lineup. And that led him to have Real competing for the LaLiga title until the very last Matchday, as well as in the Champions League semifinals, despite dealing with an impossible number of injuries.

To that end, the 2021-2022 season has elucidated what may have been Zidane’s greatest act of magic in the previous campaign. It deals with getting the most out of a backup-level player at a position he had never played and, in reality, had no business playing at such a high level.

You may have already guessed that this is an article about Lucas Vazquez. The wide man is the kind of player who oozes fighting spirit and is important to Real Madrid as a squad player because of his work rate and other intangible qualities. Slandering him is not warranted, because a true Madridista knows who he is and who he isn’t already.

However, I don’t think anyone – not even Vazquez’s biggest defenders – would try to argue that the Galician should be the top backup for Dani Carvajal at the right back position. It is not his natural position. He makes basic errors in his positioning and can be very weak against better opponents, especially inside his own penalty box.

Lucas Vazquez had some jaw-dropping numbers in 2020-21

Vazquez has been quite poor over the past couple of matches to close 2021 with Carvajal injured. He scored the winner in El Clasico this season and was very good in a narrow win over Shakhtar Donetsk, so this has not been a failed season for the recently-extended player. However, his latest displays are a reminder of his serious limitations at right back.

Yet under Zinedine Zidane last season, Vazquez was so good that he was a highly-rated right back in every performance statistic, such as WhoScored rating. Vazquez had a 7.20 rating in LaLiga last season and even a 7.13 rating in the Champions League.

He averaged over a dribble completed per game in both competitions, two key passes per game in LaLiga, and 1.8 key passes per game in the Champions League. Vazquez had five assists in LaLiga. Defensively, he averaged 2.5 tackles per game in the league and an even 2.0 per match in the Champions League.

Those are outstanding numbers, putting him at such a high level at right back that even PSG, Bayern Munich, and Atletico Madrid were reportedly looking at him. And that convinced Real to give Vazquez a raise and extension, one season after Madridistas were ready to run the 30-year-old out of the club entirely.

Under Zidane, Vazquez was class at a position he never played before for an extended period of time, even against big clubs. This season, he has had some bright attacking moments, but he has not looked nearly as good at right back.

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So looking back, Zizou’s ability to get the most out of Vazquez in 2020-2021 in an emergency situation is truly incredible. It is a reminder that for as much as people outside Real Madrid like to discredit the 1998 World Cup hero, the three-peat manager is indeed one of the greatest managers we have ever seen. Including for the little touches like this that go beyond winning an unthinkable three straight Champions Leagues.