Real Madrid have secured a Liga record-equalling 16th consecutive win after making Espanyol their latest victims. UEFA.com's Richard Martin shines a light on their recent success.
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Real Madrid beat Espanyol 2-0 on Sunday to post a club-record 16th consecutive Liga victory, overtaking their previous best set in 1960/61 and equalling the top-flight record of Josep Guardiola's Barcelona in 2010/11. Eight months on from the dismissal of Rafael Benítez, the transformation has been dramatic, prompting UEFA.com's Richard Martin to go in search of some answers.
The Zidane factor
It takes a lot to impress a squad with the calibre of players Madrid possess, but Zinédine Zidane has had them eating out of their hands since he took over in January. "He's just got that aura about him," says Gareth Bale. "Whatever he says, everyone really just drools over the words."
Cristiano Ronaldo also took an instant liking to the legendary former midfielder, declaring: "He's smart, he doesn't say much. He's shy but he's very positive and I identify with that kind of person." As well as hitting it off with the players, Zidane has proved a shrewd operator, quickly finding his preferred starting XI and shape while managing the squad carefully to keep players fresh and on their toes.
Madrid's remarkable sequence of wins owes much as well to the prolific presence of Ronaldo, who has struck 14 times in 11 games during the record streak. From plundering four goals against Celta Vigo and crucial doubles against Valencia and Deportivo, not to mention a winning strike against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, Ronaldo's goals have fired Real's rampaging run – which would have been scarcely possible without him.
Casemiro's balancing act
The Brazilian international was quickly recalled following Real's home loss to Atlético Madrid in February, brought in to anchor a midfield that had prioritised entertainment over balance. The result was a steadier, more consistent feel to the centre ground not seen at Real since the days of Zidane's old team-mate Claude Makelele. "Fundamental," is how the coach describes Casemiro, and the player's constant presence in the winning run – starting 13 of the 16 games – proves Zidane's words were far from faint praise.
Goals from all areas
As well as being blessed with the ever-expanding goal tally of Ronaldo, Madrid can count on Bale and Karim Benzema, who both had their most productive seasons for the club last term. Yet even with the 'BBC' trident and returning marksman Álvaro Morata around, it helps to have players all over the pitch who can chip in.
The unlikely figures of Sergio Ramos and Casemiro grabbed the points at Las Palmas in March, a Toni Kroos missile sunk Celta in August and five different scorers contributed to the 5-2 goal glut against Osasuna last week. With Ronaldo and Bale missing against Espanyol, meanwhile, it was James Rodríguez who got the team off the mark in their 16th straight success.
Tuesday's extraordinary fightback against Sporting CP in the UEFA Champions League was the latest demonstration that Madrid never know when they are beaten. That spirit runs through the club's glittering history and has also underpinned their current winning run. Zidane's side overcame a late equaliser at Las Palmas last season to win 2-1 and they ended Barcelona's 39-game unbeaten run with another late turnaround at the Camp Nou despite playing with ten men.
Later in the campaign, Gareth Bale spearheaded a comeback from two goals down to win 3-2 at Rayo Vallecano and grabbed a late winner at Real Sociedad. The Madrid late shows have continued this season too, with Toni Kroos striking the winner against Celta in the 81st minute.