Inside La Liga: Zinedine Zidane savours Real Madrid victory

Real Madrid’s first galactico coach got off to a flying start in Saturday’s 5-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

But it seems clear that incoming boss Zinedine Zidane understands the serious work is just beginning.

Almost a decade after his last game as a Madrid player, Zidane’s first as coach brought a straightforward home victory to bring cheer to what had become a very gloomy stadium during recent months under Rafa Benitez.

Once Karim Benzema opened the scoring after 15 minutes, with the opposition appealing for offside, Madrid were always in control.

Gareth Bale soon made it 2-0, and later completed a hat-trick. Benzema completed the rout late on and fans and pundits went home happy.

“The Frenchman had an immediate effect on his debut,” wrote Jose Samano in El Pais. “Real Madrid was liberated — everyone, its fans and its players.”

Zidane clearly wants to have this impact. Previously almost monk-like in public, he spent his first week in charge smiling at press conferences, making training more fun for the players, and telling fans what they wanted to hear. The shape of the side did not change much against Depor, but the players looked freed from Benitez’s controlling hand. Local favourites Isco and Dani Carvajal returned to the starting side, while the previously underused James Rodriguez and Jese got runs as second-half substitutes.

“There was a good atmosphere from the first minute,” Zidane said. “The players’ attitude was good. Nothing has changed for them, all that has changed is the coach. This was the first game, we must see what happens now. But the idea is to play good football and win games. The fans today were happy.”

He will know that beating a smaller team at home is not really the issue though — Rayo Vallecano, Getafe, and Malmo were hockeyed at the Bernabeu recently even as Benitez headed towards an inevitable early exit. That tends to happen when one of your ‘galactico’ forwards costs many times more than the entire opposition squad.

Zidane’s first big challenge appeared to be with Bale, who was rumoured to be upset at losing his dressing-room ally Benitez. But the Welshman looked fine against Depor, scoring his second La Liga hat-trick of the season, and embracing his new boss when substituted late on.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a more frustrating evening. While everyone else was enjoying themselves, the Portuguese had 10 shots on goal without seriously troubling Depor keeper German Lux.

Ronaldo’s nemesis Lionel Messi also scored a hat-trick in Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Granada earlier on Saturday. This evening he will watch on as Messi retakes the Ballon D’Or crown in Zurich.

During the week, Zidane called Ronaldo “the soul of Madridismo”, and unlike Benitez he knows the sensitive, soon-to-turn-31-year-old needs careful handling. He knows firsthand all about being a fading galactico, unable to reach former heights while the team around him suffers.

His own past as player did not count any more, Zidane said this week, knowing he would be judged on results. And the situation is not so bad — Madrid remain right in the running in La Liga ahead of six very winnable domestic games, before next month’s Champions League last 16 tie against crisis-hit Roma.

Chasing down Barcelona and Atletico Madrid will require an upturn in form, but Zidane seems well aware of this. “What I most liked tonight was the attitude of the players,” he said on Saturday. “From there we must improve in many things. We have time for that. We will improve, I am convinced of that.”

Although bigger tests lie ahead, Zidane’s first week in charge has gone very well.


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