Real Madrid will aim to maintain their unbeaten start to the 2019/20 campaign when they take on Mallorca in Palma on Saturday. Los Blancos sit top of the table after winning five and drawing three of their opening eight La Liga games. They are the heavy favourites to beat Mallorca, but the bookmakers remain unconvinced by Real Madrid’s ability to overhaul Barcelona and lift the trophy this season.
The top sportsbooks make Barcelona the odds-on favourites to win La Liga for the third time in a row, while Real Madrid are 7/4 underdogs. That is despite Ernesto Valverde’s men losing two of their opening eight games. However, Lionel Messi is now back from injury and Barca is up to second, just two points behind Real, after winning their last three matches. They finished 19 points clear of Los Blancos last season, so the odds are perhaps understandable.
Yet Zinedine Zidane is now back at the helm, the club spent a record-breaking €300 million in the summer and they should be capable of wresting the title away from Barcelona. They have made a shaky start to their Champions League campaign, but their form in La Liga has been strong. They now have a big enough squad to compete on multiple fronts, and they are blessed with a great blend of youth and experience, which should prove to be crucial to their chances of success this season.
Zidane started Eden Hazard, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale behind Karim Benzema in their 1-0 win away at Sevilla last month. Three days later he went with Vinicius Junior, Federico Valverde and Lucas Vazquez behind Luka Jovic in a 2-0 win against Osasuna. Benzema, Hazard and Bale were back for the draw away at Atletico, highlighting Zidane’s ability to shuffle his pack when fixture pile-ups occur.
Real Madrid has also kept three clean sheets in their last four games. That is a distinct improvement on the defensive struggles they endured last term, and Real could really thrive this season if Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane form a strong partnership. They are two of the world’s best defenders, so they really should be able to lead their team to plenty of clean sheets.
Much depends on Zidane’s man-management ability. He turned around a struggling team during his first stint as manager, turning an underperforming group into European champions three times in a row. That is a testament to his ability to get the best out of these Galacticos. His handling of the Gareth Bale situation has been questionable, and it might pay dividends to put an arm around the Welshman and get him back onside.
Real have badly missed Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals ever since he left for Juventus last summer, and it is clear that Hazard will not be able to fill the void. The Belgian is a great player, but he is more of a creator. Instead, it must be a collective effort. Benzema has made a magnificent start to the season, vindicating Zidane’s efforts to keep hold of him. But Bale is the player with Real’s ranks that can score goals for fun, soar past defenders, fire in long-range strikes and decide tight games with a moment of magic.
If Zidane can get Bale pulling in the right direction and tighten Real’s defence then we could be in for another glorious season. Los Blancos typically start sluggishly in the Champions League group stage and then come good in the knockout phase of the tournament. This squad is packed with players that know how to get the job done in Europe and in La Liga, and they can earn more respect from bookmakers and pundits alike by playing to their full potential over the next few months.
“I’m going to fight right until my last day because I enjoy what I do and feel as if I’m up to it,” said Zidane ahead of his team’s 4-2 triumph over Granada. “We’re not such a bad state as people outside of here say we are.” The Frenchman will always be under pressure as Real manager, but he has a unique ability to thrive under it, while also commanding the respect of some of the world’s greatest players, and it is time for him to use those famous man-management skills and challenge for silverware.