La Liga

Just when you think Zidane is out, Real Madrid pull him back in

The Frenchman looked on the verge of an exit after the Shakhtar Donetsk defeat, but three big performances from his team have turned it around

 
10:00am on Sunday 13th December 2020
By
Paul Macdonald

Zinedine Zidane has been close to the edge on more than one occasion this season.

Losses to Cadiz, Alaves, and Shakhtar Donetsk twice, coupled with a team lacking direction and threat, gave the impression that it was when, not if, the Frenchman would be replaced.

But his players have regularly publicly backed him, and when he needed them to follow that up with a series of performances, boy, have they delivered for him.

Real Madrid 2-0 Atletico Madrid: Player Ratings, Match Stats, Player Stats

Victories over three good teams - Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach and Atletico Madrid - within seven days is seismic and exactly what was required. This was a team who had emerged from a 2-0 loss in Kiev with question marks over virtually member of the squad.

The Spanish press were rabid, saying that the team was 'Europa League meat' and had largely accepted their fate. But Zidane is back, once again.

The grind against Sevilla wasn't pretty, but was vital in a match many expected them to lose, and lose well. But it set the tone for the Gladbach triumph when Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Sergio Ramos and, in particular, Luka Modric, accepted responsibility, and the rhythm of the win over Germans was significant in how much it had been missing pretty much all season.

And that level, combined with a renewed confidence and vigour, was evident in the first 45 against Atletico Madrid, easily Madrid's best half of the season. Kroos conducted events in front of Atleti's low block and set about shifting them out of position with smart balls into the final third and progressive switches of play. All the passes in his repertoire were unveiled and Atleti's midfield couldn't handle him.

Indeed Koke looked increasingly isolated as Hector Herrera looked unclear of his role, while Marcos Llorente was trapped between being the offensive creator he was meant to be, and having to shuttle back and fill in as Madrid completely dominated.

Jan Oblak's wonder-stop denied Benzema but then when Casemiro headed home Atleti's deep-lying game plan was neutralised just 15 minutes in. It's difficult not to be perplexed at Diego Simeone's numerous tactical head-scratchers; leaving Saul out from the start, subbing Joao Felix after an hour when only a goal down, and giving Luis Suarez 70 minutes when he was well off it. And it translated into five shots in total, and just single effort on target.

Real Madrid
Ratings v Atletico Madrid
6.4
79
7.2
81
8.1
94
7.3
85
7.9
84
7.8
85
7.1
85
8.2
85
6.2
77
7.1
92
7.4
78

But Madrid must be given credit for their role in upsetting a team which had only conceded two league goals in 10 before tonight. They refused to let the pattern of the game drift to a position where it benefitted the visitors it's down to them, and Zidane, for ensuring they maintained that psychological advantage over their rivals.

And all of a sudden, from a summer rebuild, Madrid's team doesn't look as bad. Ramos' return can't be underestimated either, the captain giving the opposition nothing throughout. This team remains far from perfect but it's the perceived easier fixtures, rather than the hard ones, which are giving Zidane's team difficulty. They lose when they are expected to win, and win when expected to lose.

But what it now means for La Liga is where a nine-point lead could have been created, Real can go level with their capital rivals by defeating Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday. And Zidane, well, the sword of Damocles moves a little further away for now. He can thank his players for that.

Real Madrid 2-0 Atletico Madrid: Player Ratings, Match Stats, Player Stats

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