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Real Madrid have conceded fewest league goals from any club in Europe’s top five leagues and have a goalkeeper in Shape as they prepare for the derby
Everything changed after Son Moix.

Real Madrid began the season in erratic shape, still stinging from the 7-3 pre-season thrashing by Atletico Madrid, and hurt further by naturally pulls with Real Valladolid and Villarreal.

The Belgian’s final clean sheet was back in February and he seemed barely half of the goalkeeper who made his name across town at Atletico and in Chelsea.

Following Club Brugge shredded the defence again in the Santiago Bernabeu in a 2-2 draw, Real Mallorca beat Zidane’s side 1-0 at Son Moix and the catastrophe talk that was piled beneath, reared its head. Even Jose Mourinho was cited as a replacement. That is how bad it got.

“The match in Mallorca was a turning point,” said Lucas Vazquez on Wednesday night after Madrid thrashed Real Zaragoza 4-0 at the Copa del Rey. “It’s brought good performances and great results.”

The winger was not lying. Actual face derby rivals Atletico on Saturday in the Bernabeu sitting top of La Liga. After Mallorca’s success at Son Moix, Madrid have gone 20 matches unbeaten. In that time they’ve conceded just nine goals, scoring 45, winning the Spanish Super Cup along the way.

Zidane’s staff have become serious, sober. They are not messing around anymore, tightening up unexpectedly, and unpredictably.

To win three successive Champions League names was a remarkable accomplishment, but it had been obtained without persuasive for large swathes of time. League functionality is a better barometer of a team’s actual level. Zidane understands it, having expressed his insecurities in their ancestral national screen upon leaving the club in May 2018, despite European victory.

This surge in shape has come in the defence doing its job. For much too long Madrid have held onto elite standing when working with a porous backing. Last year they were sixth in the branch for fewest goals conceded, behind 13th-place Leganes. For every 1 goal Diego Simeone’s side let in, Madrid shipped two.

Now, however, Madrid have the division’s best defence, with 13 surrendered in 21 games. They’ve equalled their best record after 21 games, just managing to defend this nicely from the 1964-65 and 1987-88 seasons. Madrid recognized it on their own site, noting they were before another hand in Europe’s top five leagues, with Atletico, PSG, and Stade Reims allowing in 14 and European champions Liverpool 15. With Cristiano Ronaldo long gone, Madrid finally realised that they can’t count on outscoring opponents in goal-rush games no more.

Brazilian left-back Marcelo is a brilliant attacking weapon but is often guilty of neglecting his defensive responsibilities. Mendy gets forward like a truck when it suits him, but he understands his primary job. All of the players do. Now without Ronaldo, there is not a single place in the XI with complete freedom. They all have jobs and the staff is working as a cohesive unit.

Perhaps that is in part because of Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard’s injury issues – if the Belgian is back it’ll be interesting to see if Zidane suits him with monitoring back or not.

Madrid have had a much greater midfield presence this year, with Toni Kroos far improved on his abject displays in the past effort, while Casemiro has gone from strength to strength and Fede Valverde has been a brilliant improvement after Zidane brought him to the fold.

That leads to fewer attempts at Courtois’s goal. On three occasions this year, Madrid have not faced a shot on goal. The latter of these came in the 1-0 win at Real Valladolid last weekend, a game which proved Madrid’s defensive ability and showed they still have some way to go in assault, something to work on in the second half of the year to be a really excellent side.

When groups do break , they come face to face with a renewed Courtois, somebody who once more looks unbeatable, with his confidence restored. Back to his best, there’s a real possibility that Courtois could become the first Real Madrid goalkeeper to deserve the Zamora trophy, for the lowest goals conceded per game, since Iker Casillas in 2008. Whistled at the beginning of the year and even fell for Alphonse Areola at a point, Courtois has come out of his shell and might win the prize he lifted at Atletico, in 2013 and 2014.

Sergio Ramos is less gung-ho than previously, with just five yellow cards to his name this year across all contests – Barcelona’s Gerard Pique has 13. He’s having to make fewer rash tackles playing alongside Mendy. Between them, they’ve transformed unrecognisably over the last few months.

The following evaluation of passion comes against Manchester City in the Champions League last 16. If Madrid stop Europe’s best attack their development from careless to cast-iron will be complete.