Consistent team selections and performances inspired so much of Real’s success during Zidane’s first period as their manager. For both of the 2017 and 2018 Champions League finals, for example, he used an identical starting XI; a more central role for Isco in 2018 was their only change. Even if his team evolved from using a 4-3-3 formation to a four-diamond-two during that period, their personnel remained similar.
It was also significant that they posed a balanced attacking threat. From goals scored in the Champions League, the competition that has long defined Real as a club, and which they dominated under Zidane until his resignation – 16 assists came from the left side of their attack, 16 came from central positions, and 18 came from the right. Support offered by advancing full-backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal invited Ronaldo, Isco, Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio to drift inside from wide starting positions when they were organised into a 4-3-3, and when that 4-3-3 became a four-diamond-two they became responsible for providing Real’s width.
Zidane also prioritised playing his best players in their most natural positions for as long as possible. Ronaldo was perhaps the finest player in the world inside the penalty area for the period Real were managed by the Frenchman, and he was therefore moved from his a role as a left-sided forward who cut inside to shoot to a permanent central position alongside Karim Benzema.
Benzema also thrived from that change. His off-the-ball movements – particularly when withdrawing away from opposing central defenders – offered Isco freedom from his role as Real’s number 10 that the Spaniard regularly used to combine with those positioned out wide, often giving Ronaldo increased room (below) in the areas in which he was so influential. That also contributed to increased numbers in wide areas, leading to Real dominating in the territory their manager values.