MADRID — Without some of his best forwards, Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane trusted his midfielders to get the job done.
Zidane used five players in the midfield to make up for the absence of forwards Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup against Valencia on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, and it paid off handsomely.
Madrid had one of its best games of the season, cruising to a 3-1 victory and advancing to Sunday’s final against either Barcelona or Atletico Madrid.
Zidane used newly arrived Luka Jovic as the lone striker up front. Instead of adding forwards Lucas Vazquez, Rodrygo or Vinicius Junior on the flanks, he packed the midfield with Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde and Casemiro.
Kroos, Isco and Modric each scored to give Madrid the comfortable victory at King Abdullah Sports City.
“We always like to try new things,” Zidane said. “We could have used two forwards, but we decided to bring Isco and Modric toward the middle and give more space to the fullbacks. It’s an attacking-minded lineup. The important thing is that we pressured our opponent on its field. We wanted to make things difficult for them from the start.”
The tight midfield kept Madrid in control throughout the match, dominating Valencia by constantly threatening in attack while not conceding much ground defensively. Madrid ended with more than 60% of ball possession and exchanged a team season-high 798 passes.
“We were in control,” Casemiro said. “It was an experiment to play with five midfielders and we showed that it can be done.”
Zidane said the good performance against Valencia does not guarantee he will use the same formation again.
“It was the choice today, but we may change things again for the next match,” Zidane said. “We need to get some rest before we start preparing for the final.”
Benzema, Madrid’s leading scorer with 16 goals in all competitions, didn’t make the trip to Saudi Arabia because of a left hamstring injury, while Bale stayed home because of a throat infection. Hazard has been nursing an ankle injury since last year.
The Spanish Super Cup is being played in a “Final Four” format for the first time. Previously, only the Spanish league winner and the Copa del Rey champion participated. Madrid made it this year as the third-place finisher in the league after Spanish champion Barcelona lost to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.
Madrid is seeking its eighth Spanish Super Cup title. Barcelona is the competition’s most successful club with 10.