A tranquility that belies the chaos
It has been a bit too quiet at Real Madrid for the past few weeks. Even as they thrashed Getafe 6-0 in their only preseason game this season, there was no footage, nor much hype around that game, treated as only a 'training session' so to speak. Neither has there been the arrival of any big-name signings at the Bernabeu this season as they go into their defence of the La Liga title away to La Real on Sunday. While the noise from Catalunya has been deafening, the defending champions have kept it scrupulously quite but that is the very trend that Zinedine Zidane strives for and indeed specializes in as he looks to become the first Real Madrid manager in 30 years to win back-to-back La Liga titles. Consistency is the key and Zidane is all for it and the La Liga has been an especially difficult challenge for the man who already won the Champions League three-peat -- a feat no other team has achieved in the modern history of the Champions League.
That is however all in the past now. Those titles were all won with a different team but also with a kind of football that Madrid dream of repeating. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo have moved on and last season's title win against a dismally mismanaged Barca did not erase questions that Zidane's Madrid found themselves in a lucky spot during a pandemic where everyone suffered. But that is also the trademark of Zidane's genius. He takes things as they come -- much like his gifted first-touch as a player -- and more than a tactician he has the man-management nous that a football degree will not just provide. There is an aura about Madrid even without the noise of big signings and Zidane's cool supplements it.
Ever since Lionel Messi's appearance at Barca, Madrid have found La Liga extremely hard and Zidane will be aware of that challenge but his main goal will be to make this Madrid side show its potential in the week-in-week-out grind of La Liga, one that they have found strenuous even during Zidane's most successful era.
Instead of big names coming in, there have been moves away for Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Achraf Hakimi, Oscar Rodríguez, Brahim Diaz, Sergio Reguilon, Dani Ceballos and Kubo. Luka Jovic too might leave and yet Madrid are pretty much built like a tank and is where their quiet confidence comes from.
In a season where Barca will have to deal with a new manager while keeping an Lionel Messi motivated, Madrid could still be the team with all the foundations for the future. Even as star man Hazard, who scored just once last season and returned for preseason five kilos overweight, is yet to fire, there have been glimpses of that connection he has developed with Karim Benzema as the duo enjoyed each other's plays. That, along with the uprising of Vinicius Jr, Fede Valverde and Ferland Mendy, was good enough to see Madrid clinch title last season with a ten-game unbeaten run.
Zidane will have an ace in his pocket too as teenage sensation Martin Odegaard returns from a loan deal. The youngster enthralled last season and could very well be the missing piece. But above all, this is also a season of transition. Luka Modric is 35, Ramos is 34, Marcelo and Benzema are 32, Kroos 30. But in Zidane, Madrid have that calm head to guide them through and indeed assail Barca and Atletico once more.