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It cer­tainly worked out the last time Real Madrid pro­moted the Coach of Castilla, their B team, to the first-team head coach­ing role. Zine­dine Zi­dane man­aged to win nine tro­phies in just two and a half years in charge of Los Blan­cos, in­clud­ing three Cham­pi­ons League ti­tles, so why couldn’t it hap­pen again with San­ti­ago So­lari?

The Ar­gen­tine was the cho­sen one to take over once the de­ci­sion was fi­nally made to put Julen Lopetegui out of his mis­ery and to sack the Basque af­ter post­ing a record of seven wins, three draws and six de­feats and af­ter a 5-1 humiliation in Oc­to­ber’s Cla­sico. At first, So­lari was a tem­po­rary ap­point­ment. Real Madrid had a fort­night to eval­u­ate him be­fore hav­ing to de­cide on whether or not to of­fer a per­ma­nent con­tract, but a record of four wins from his first four games, with 15 goals scored and just two con­ceded, con­vinced them that he could do the job. He was duly handed a con­tract un­til 2021.

For many, the length of the deal was a shock. For some, it was a head­scratcher that So­lari had even been ap­pointed at all. His time at Castilla had been un­der­whelm­ing and the club even con­sid­ered re­plac­ing him as the B team’s boss dur­ing the sum­mer months, fol­low­ing two sea­sons in which they’d fin­ished

11th and then eighth in their group in the Se­gunda B, the 80-team third tier of Span­ish football, when the ob­jec­tive had been pro­mo­tion. The start to the 2018-19 cam­paign was much bet­ter, but it wasn’t as if So­lari had been pulling up trees since day one.

For So­lari, Castilla had been his first taste of coach­ing in the Span­ish foot­balling pyra­mid, af­ter hav­ing pre­vi­ously earned his stripes at the lower lev­els of the

Real Madrid academy. His route into man­age­ment and then to the Real Madrid first-team job was al­most iden­ti­cal to his for­mer team­mate Zi­dane’s, but there are a

cou­ple of im­por­tant dif­fer­ences to keep in mind.

One is that So­lari’s re­sults at Castilla weren’t as im­pres­sive as the French­man’s, as Zi­dane boasted a win­ning per­cent­age of 46 per­cent, com­pared to the Ar­gen­tine’s 37 per­cent. The other key dif­fer­ence is that Zi­dane pos­sessed a cer­tain un­match­able aura, the kind that could bend the club’s su­per­stars to his will. So­lari, who played for the cap­i­tal city club be­tween 2000 and 2005, may have been next to Zi­dane in many of the ti­tle-win­ning pho­tos plas­tered on the walls of the club mu­seum, but he was never front and centre. He was never a Galac­tico.

From day one, So­lari has been keen to play down com­par­isons with Zi­dane. “Zi­dane you can­not com­pare with any­one,” he told re­porters at one press con­fer­ence. “He was a leg­end as a player and was some­one who I had the good for­tune to bat­tle and sweat along­side.

“As a Coach, he might be the most suc­cess­ful in Real Madrid's his­tory,” So­lari con­tin­ued. “I look at him too as a great hu­man be­ing. So we should not com­pare him with any­one. Leave him alone in his great­ness.”

How­ever, it’s in­evitable that So­lari will be mea­sured against the Coach who so re­cently led Los Blan­cos to an un­prece­dented three con­sec­u­tive Cham­pi­ons League ti­tles and who was pro­moted into the job in sim­i­lar fash­ion. Count­less ar­ti­cles have ap­peared in the lo­cal news­pa­pers link­ing So­lari’s de­ci­sions to those made by his pre­de­ces­sor’s pre­de­ces­sor.

So what about So­lari’s de­ci­sions? What has he changed at the club since tak­ing over from Lopetegui? The main dif­fer­ence is that the 42-year-old has been play­ing his squad mem­bers in their nat­u­ral po­si­tions as much as pos­si­ble. Lopetegui was re­luc­tant to use raw tal­ents like backup right-back Al­varo Odri­o­zola and backup left-back Ser­gio Reguilon when­ever Dani Car­va­jal and Marcelo were in­jured or sus­pended, but So­lari trusted the 22-yearold and 21-year-old enough to play them in his first matches. Sim­i­larly, he brought Mar­cos Llorente back from the foot­balling wilder­ness to re­place Casemiro when the Brazil­ian was out in­jured and the young de­fen­sive mid­fielder did an ex­cel­lent job of fill­ing in for the starter. Part of this has to do with his belief in young play­ers, which also ex­plains why the likes of Vini­cius Ju­nior, Fede Valverde and Javi Sanchez have also seen their play­ing time dra­mat­i­cally in­crease.

Tac­ti­cally, there has been a shift back to the kind of ver­ti­cal football that worked so well for Real Madrid over the pre­vi­ous three cam­paigns, with wide play­ers like Lu­cas Vazquez and Vini­cius earn­ing more play­ing time at the ex­pense of silky passers like

Isco. Lopetegui tried to in­stall a pos­ses­sion­based style at the club, but the long se­ries of side-to-side passes often failed to pose is­sues for op­po­si­tion de­fences. Across So­lari’s first month in charge, av­er­age pos­ses­sion in League matches was down to 57 per­cent, com­pared to the 66 per­cent un­der Lopetegui, while passes per game dropped from 411 to 162. At the same time, goals per game in­creased from 1.4 to 2.0. It re­mains to be seen whether or not this can be sus­tain­able. The get-the-ball-inthe-box-as-quickly-as-pos­si­ble tac­tics of old worked so well be­cause Real Madrid had one of the best penalty area preda­tors in the game in Cris­tiano Ron­aldo. Get­ting the ball into the feet of Karim Ben­zema or Mar­i­ano Diaz isn’t quite the same. Against cer­tain teams, this plan sim­ply won’t work. This was the case in the 3-0 loss away at Eibar in late Novem­ber, So­lari’s first setback on the job af­ter start­ing off with four vic­to­ries in a row. Eibar bat­ted away ev­ery­thing that was thrown into their penalty area, while their high line also frus­trated the vis­i­tors from the cap­i­tal’s long-ball game, with Ben­zema caught off­side seven times, a record for the striker. The good news for the Ar­gen­tine tac­ti­cian is that, like ev­ery Real Madrid Coach, he’ll be judged on what hap­pens in Europe, where the op­po­si­tion are more am­bi­tious and less likely to play in the style of teams like Eibar. Los Blan­cos will come up against teams they can trou­ble through di­rect football and teams they can counter at­tack against, as they have been do­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League over the past three years.

They still har­bour hopes of chal­leng­ing for the league ti­tle and the fact that Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have been drop­ping points like Hansel and Gre­tel do bread­crumbs means that there is still a chance they could win the do­mes­tic cham­pi­onship. The focus, though, will be on Europe and this may be the most likely op­por­tu­nity for col­lect­ing ma­jor sil­ver­ware in So­lari’s de­but sea­son.

With the Cham­pi­ons League as com­pet­i­tive as ever, the re­al­ity is that there is a strong chance that Real Madrid’s tight grip on the Euro­pean Cup will loosen in 2018-19. What that would mean for So­lari is un­clear. He has a con­tract un­til 2021, but few coaches at the Es­ta­dio San­ti­ago Bern­abeu are ever al­lowed to leave on their own terms. Zi­dane was an ex­cep­tion in that re­gard. Fail­ure to lead Real Madrid to vic­tory at the Es­ta­dio Wanda Metropoli­tano, the home of their neigh­bours Atletico Madrid, in June’s fi­nal could be costly for the rookie tac­ti­cian, es­pe­cially with sev­eral coaches who boast im­pres­sive CVs set to be­come avail­able in the sum­mer. So­lari is not Zi­dane, even more so if he fails to achieve the im­me­di­ate suc­cess of the French icon.

‘For some, it was a head­scratcher that So­lari had even been ap­pointed at all.’‘Julen Lopetegui'S TERM ONLY LASTED 138days’ ABOVE:Julen Lopetegui was sacked af­ter just 138 days in charge.LEFT:San­ti­ago So­lari was brought in as a tem­po­rary ap­point­ment and then given a per­ma­nent deal to 2021.

ABOVE:Real Madrid topped their Cham­pi­ons League group with a round to spare and now tar­get a fourth con­sec­u­tive ti­tle.BOT­TOM:The 18-year-old su­per­star Vini­cius Ju­nior has played much more un­der So­lari af­ter earn­ing just 12 min­utes un­der Lopetegui.

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