The Santiago Bernabeu rose to its feet to welcome back club legend Zinedine Zidane for his second spell as manager on Saturday.
Having been so blatantly shunned under the previous regime, it was fitting that Isco made the breakthrough in the 62nd minute with Benzema once again playing provider under Zidane.
Marcelo then assisted Bale for the second goal 13 minutes from time to seal all three points
Here’s how Zidane fared in his first match back in charge of Real.
Goals – 2
Shots – 22
Possession – 53%
Key passes – 19
Dribbles – 11
Tackles – 16
Old favourites make impact
Zidane’s team selection for his first game back at the helm spoke volumes. Outcasts Isco, Navas, Asensio and Marcelo were reinstated in the first XI as was the out-of-favour Bale. The Welshman hit the crossbar with a scissor kick in the first half and while he could’ve done better on a couple of other occasions, his threat continued to grow after the break and he sealed the win with Madrid’s second. Meanwhile, Navas made an eye-catching save in the 16th minute.
Asensio on the other hand went on some great runs and threatened the goal. Marcelo was a force in attack but – predictably – a liability at the back. Isco just looked like a player starved of minutes on the pitch. The Spaniard did bag the crucial opener though while Marcelo picked up the assist for Bale’s goal.
Celta Vigo’s defence is among the worst in the Spanish top flight but Madrid did struggle to carve out clear-cut opportunities in the first half. That’s largely down to some labourious play in possession. It’s a strange accusation against a team that boasts the creativity of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Isco in midfield but such is the reality at the Bernabeu.
Zidane no doubt pointed out this shortcoming at half-time and they did step things up a notch in the second period but there remains plenty of scope for improvement in that department.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Granted, it wasn’t as fluid as Zidane would’ve liked but it will take time to rediscover their swagger in the final third. What was evident though was the return of a more flexible attacking unit with Benzema reprising his role as a roaming number nine.
The Frenchman consistently dropped deep or pulled wide to get involved in the build-up play and it was no surprise when he set up Isco for the opener with a ball across the six-yard box from the left side.
A quick glance at the heat maps of Benzema, Isco, Asensio and Bale would give little indication of the positions each of them actually lined up in. Hardly a complex strategy but the message is clear – play with freedom and create space for each other.
Sometimes the result is far more important than the performance and this was one of those times. Zidane’s team selection will be debated but overall, it paid off. There were signs of his attempts to get this Los Blancos side purring again but it will take time until they can up their game. Not great, but good enough for now.
Zinedine Zidane has wasted little time in making his presence felt back at Real Madrid after bringing the likes of Isco, Marcelo and Gareth Bale back in from the cold.
The Frenchman, who was re-appointed Los Blancos boss on Monday after the club parted ways with Santi Solari, is set for a rapturous welcome from the Bernabeu crowd ahead of Saturday’s clash with Celta Vigo (GST: 19:15).
With the title race now a distant memory and their run of three Champions League successes at an end, Zidane has shaken up the pack at the tail-end of a disastrous season engineered by Julen Lopetegui and then Solari.
Zidane has placed his faith in Isco and Marcelo – the pair who were frozen out by Solari – for the first line-up of his return, as well as Bale. Towards the end of Zidane’s initial reign, his relationship with the Welshman had reportedly become strained.
Marco Asensio, who has also endured a season to forget, has been awarded a spot while Keylor Navas regains his place in goal at the expense of summer signing Thibaut Courtois.
After 294 tumultuous days in the history of Real Madrid, head coach Zinedine Zidane returns this weekend to their dugout for the visit of La Liga relegation-fodder Celta Vigo.
The Los Blancos and France icon last guided his team to a 3-1 victory against Liverpool in May’s Champions League final, before unexpectedly quitting less than a week later. An institution in turmoil, who’ve churned through both Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari in the interim, welcomed him back with grateful arms on Monday.
Madrid have little tangible to play for – unlike 18th-placed Celta – during the remaining months of a moribund 2018/19. But intrigue abounds about the 46-year-old’s galvanising power, plus any hints about what the future holds for a misfiring, but superstar-laden, squad.
Here are the talking points ahead of Saturday’s fixture (19:15 UAE KO) at Santiago Bernabeu:
DOES ZIZOU PRESENT THE CURE?
Zidane departed a club for whom he’d bequeathed a third-successive Champions League upon.
In total, the Frenchman had won nine trophies across 149 matches. From this run, 393 goals were scored and 104 wins were registered.
His 150th match in charge, however, witnesses him take the reins of a fallen third-placed giant whose visage of supremacy – as he predicted – has been vividly cracked during 10 painful months without him.
Insight into why Zidane was reappointed – and Jose Mourinho, ultimately, ignored – can be mined from an interview before May’s European showpiece.
“I may not be the best tactician, but I have other qualities,” Zidane told reporters, as cited by Marca.
“Motivation and passion are values that I have, and that is worth a lot more.”
Positivity, endeavour and feats of daring-do will be expected on Saturday against opponents that last won on February 2. Plus, have lost nine of their previous 12 fixtures.
With no game of any genuine relevance for the next six months, putting a smile back on the ashen faces of the Santiago Bernabeu hordes is vital. The preceding four fixtures there have been lost, a run that includes harrowing consecutive El Clasico reversals versus Barcelona to kill hopes in the Copa del Rey and La Liga plus Ajax’s electrifying round-of-16 dethroning that halted more than 1,000 days as European kings.
Mental and physical rehabilitation are the tasks at hand. A thumping of Celta would be a start.
WHAT CAN BE LEARNED?
Madrid’s team sheet will represent hot reading when it is produced an hour before kick-off.
Will Wales winger Gareth Bale continue to be persona non grata? Can the disobedient – and reportedly out of shape – playmaker Isco be welcomed back and will Spain midfield colleague Dani Ceballos’ withering words about the “impossible” Zidane in the wake of his exit be held against him?
And will trusted lieutenant Marcelo reclaim the left-back berth from Sergio Reguilon, or was Solari correct about this call?
Mounting injuries and an important suspension should means that the XI picks itself. This weakened status, however, guarantees that any snubs become more pronounced.
Wide men Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vazquez remain on the treatment table, where they find emerging midfielder Marcos Llorente. Brazil anchor man Casemiro is banned after a career-first red card.
If Bale or Ceballos are ignored this time, when will they play? Especially after Zidane described the former as someone he is going to “count on” during his pre-match press conference.
Isco’s indiscretions in the build-up to the Ajax loss meant he was made unavailable for Sunday’s 4-1 win at Valladolid that represented Solari’s chaotic last stand.
He had become a trusted player under Zidane in a breakthrough 2016/17. A first top-flight start since Lopetegui’s horrific last outing on October 28 – a 5-1 chasing by champions Barca – will point to a positive future.
If it doesn’t, maybe Isco truly remains on the outer?
The system chosen will also be interesting. For more than two thirds of fixtures in his opening stint, a 4-3-3 – like Solari – was favoured.
A WORD FOR CELTA
The La Liga trap door opens ever wider for sorry Celta.
Without sidelined talisman Iago Aspas, they’ve become chronically toothless. Highly rated Uruguay prospect Maxi Gomez has one goal since December 8, while Denmark winger Pione Sisto now struggles to start.
Fran Escriba this month became the third head coach tasked with extending a seven-year sting in La Liga.
Worryingly for him, Madrid are unbeaten in their last nine matches against Celta. In this spell, they’ve averaged 3.9 goals per match.
The 53-year-old has, thus far, only been at the helm for one game. A 1-0 loss to Real Betis does not seem too disconcerting on paper.
In this home fixture, however, they were a distant second in regards to both possession (63 per cent/37 per cent) and attempts on goal (14 to seven).
Betis tactician Quique Setien also came into the fixture with boos still ringing in the ears after a one win in eight.
A Madrid miracle will be required to spoil Zidane’s special day. Celta seem utterly incapable of producing one.