Why Zidane must drop Ronaldo at the Club World Cup
There is a cautionary tale to tell as Real Madrid jet off to Japan for the Club World Cup next week, topping LaLiga and safely into the last 16 of the Champions League, as Zinedine Zidane enjoys a fine first full season at the helm.
The coach has not overseen a defeat since the 2-0 loss to Wolfsburg on April 6, a setback that was swiftly overturned with a 3-0 win in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final.
However, if he wants that sequence to continue into 2017, the Frenchman must not allow Karim Benzema or Cristiano Ronaldo to play excessively in Japan.
As assistant to former Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, Zidane was present for a 22-game winning run that culminated in the European champions ruling the world with a 2-0 defeat of San Lorenzo.
Things then turned sour.
Defeat to Valencia helped Barcelona cut Madrid's table-topping advantage to one point. Atletico Madrid knocked them out of the Copa del Rey to cap a stuttering January before a 4-0 thrashing at the Vicente Calderon set the wheels in motion for a late-season collapse that left Ancelotti without a top honour and without a job, despite Ronaldo's endorsement and continued fan support.
Great coach and amazing person. Hope we work together next season. pic.twitter.com/HqHHGjGGUH
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) May 23, 2015
In their Club World Cup campaign, the BBC attacking trident of Gareth Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo played every minute of both fixtures.
Come the end of the season, Benzema had a knee injury, with Javier Hernandez and Jese Rodriguez sub-standard replacements, while a subdued Bale scored just six goals in 26 games after the turn of the year, leaving Ronaldo's one-man band to fall short.
Real Madrid's 2014-15 season in numbers
Before Club World Cup: P26 W22 D1 L3 - 85 per cent win rate
After Club World Cup: P31 W19 D5 L7 - 61 per cent win rate
Major Honours: None
CAN ZIDANE LEARN FROM LUIS ENRIQUE?
By comparison, Barcelona's MSN were nursed through the same period last season. Lionel Messi and Neymar sat out the semi-final win over Guangzhou Evergrande, while Luis Suarez missed a Champions League game with Bayer Leverkusen a week before the global tournament.
True, the funk at the Bernabeu brought on by Rafael Benitez's appointment and Atletico's inability to pull clear left the door open for Barca, but they stormed through it - winning 13 of their 14 league games after the Club World Cup, allowing a three-game losing run sparked by a home Clasico defeat to become immaterial.
Zidane has proven many of his doubters wrong with a measured and calculated approach to management. He must stick to these principles - and bench Benzema and Ronaldo in Japan - if he wants to continue dominating LaLiga next year.
Barcelona's 2015-16 season in numbers
Before Club World Cup: P26 W18 D5 L3 - 69 per cent win rate
After Club World Cup: P32 W26 D2 L4 - 81 per cent win rate
Major Honours: LaLiga, Copa del Rey