Zinedine Zidane’s second coming at Real Madrid was off to a winning start, as the Merengues eased past Celta Vigo 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu this weekend.
Zidane was re-appointed as the Real Madrid manager only nine months after he had vacated the post, after the sacking of Santiago Solari earlier this week. And the Frenchman made an immediate mark with his team selection, bringing in the likes of Isco, Keylor Navas, Marcelo and Gareth Bale back into the starting XI.
And the move ended up paying great dividends for Zidane and Real Madrid as Bale started off brightly and came ever so close to open the scoring in the first-half, when his brilliant volleyed effort bounced back off the crossbar. At the other end, Navas starred as he produced a fine reflex stop to deny Maxi Gomez’s header as the game remained goalless at half-time.
Soon after the restart, Luka Modric thought he had opened the scoring for Real Madrid, but the goal was chalked off by the VAR, who deemed Raphael Varane was in an offside position in the lead-up and had influenced play. Not long after, Los Blancos did break the deadlock, as Isco prodded home a Karim Benzema cross after some fine work by Marco Asensio.
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Bale then went on to make it 2-0 in favour of Real, sliding home a neat finish after being played in by Marcelo in the 77th minute. The win sees Real Madrid close down the gap to second-placed Atletico Madrid to just two points, with the Rojiblancos losing out to Athletic Bilbao on the same day. Here’s how the Real Madrid stars fared on Zidane’s comeback.
Keylor Navas: 7/10
One of the big changes made by Zidane for the game, the Costa Rican replaced Thibaut Courtois in goal and justified his inclusion, helping Real Madrid to their first clean sheet in ten matches. Made a fine save to deny Gomez in the first period. Wasn’t called into action much thereafter, but was alert when needed to be and distributed well.
Alvaro Odriozola: 6.5/10
The only player in the starting lineup to not have played under Zidane before, Odriozola held on to his place owing to Dani Carvajal’s injury and did a decent job. Hardly tested defensively on the afternoon. Got forward well down the right side, but did not create many opportunities – something he needs to improve upon fast.
Raphael Varane: 6.5/10
Not overly stretched by a Celta Vigo attack that looked short of confidence. The World Cup winner was alert and aggressive in his approach, helping stifle the opposition.
Sergio Ramos: 7/10
Back into the starting lineup after having served his suspension, the Real Madrid captain had a solid game against Celta. Helped Real Madrid keep a high backline, boxing the opposition in their own half and ensured Gomez had little impact. Came close to scoring with a header in the first half.
Having lost his place to Sergio Reguilon in recent weeks, the Brazilian was reinstated by Zidane on Saturday and he repaid the manager’s faith with a splendid display. Was a constant outlet down the left flank and forced a save from the Celta Vigo keeper, before setting up Bale for Madrid’s second with a beautiful pass. Not troubled defensively.
Toni Kroos: 7/10
A much-improved display from the German international after recent struggles. Came close with a long-range effort in the first period that just skimmed the top of the net. Hardly misplaced any passes throughout the game and his set-piece delivery was also on point.
Luka Modric: 8/10
Slotting into the holding midfield role in Casemiro and Marcos Llorente’s absence, the Croat performed his defensive duties well, making the most number of interceptions (3) and tackles (2) by any Real Madrid player. Made key contributions offensively as well, with his precise passing. Unlucky to have his goal chalked off by VAR, with Varane straying offside.
Brought back from the cold by Zidane, after being phased out of the first-team picture by Solari, Isco made the most of his chance. Was lively from the get-go and almost opened the scoring after some neat interplay with Marcelo and Benzema. Did look a bit off pace and was at times sloppy in possession, but was in the right place at the right time to break the deadlock.
It was Isco’s first La Liga start since last October and his first league goal since September last year. Will have done his confidence a world of good.
Marco Asensio: 8/10
Another player who seems to have found his confidence back with Zidane’s return. Asensio was Real Madrid’s most lively player in the final third, driving at the Celta Vigo defence with confidence, causing them all sorts of problems. Had a penalty claim denied in the first period, but did brilliantly to find Benzema in the lead-up to the opening goal.
Karim Benzema: 6.5/10
A quiet day in the office for Real Madrid’s chief goalscorer as he was unable to find a lot of space inside the Celta Vigo box. His link-up play was once again sharp, as he combined with the likes of Marcelo, Isco and Asensio effectively. One such move led to the opener as he found Isco with precision after being played in by Asensio.
Gareth Bale: 8/10
One player whose future at Real Madrid has been called into question since Zidane’s return, the Welshman did his chances of staying at the club beyond the season no harm as he put in a fine display on Saturday. Was denied by the woodwork in the first period, but made no mistake to slot home Madrid’s second after being found by Marcelo.
Worked very hard defensively as well, but was booked for an elbow on Kevin Vazquez. Encouraging signs.
Dani Ceballos: 6/10
Came on to replace Isco soon after he had opened the scoring. Composed during his brief stay on the pitch, helped Real Madrid keep control in the middle.
Federico Valverde: N/A
Came on for Modric in the 77th minute.
Mariano Diaz: N/A
Replaced Benzema with less than ten minutes left on the clock.