Karim Benzema scored a last-gasp winner to secure a 3-2 win and spare Madrid’s blushes against La Liga’s bottom club.
After falling behind early on to Cucho Hernandez’s strike, Zidane’s side thought they had turned things around through Isco and Dani Ceballos.
But the lowly visitors levelled through Xabier Etxeita, only for Benzema to settle the game with a stunning 89th-minute strike.
Zidane won three Champions League titles in a row before leaving the Bernabeu but is now back at the helm and does not have the chance to add to his silverware this season.
“At a team like Madrid, when you know you will not win a trophy, it is difficult, in moments during games,” he told reporters after the game.
“That is normal. But we are all pros here and will try and finish the season as well as possible – motivation is intrinsic and each player has their own.”
Zidane also explained his decision to pick his son as Luca Zidane made his first competitive appearance of the season, starting in goal for the win.
“I was not picking my son, but a player in Real Madrid’s squad,” he said.
“I see him as one other player for the team. I am happy for him, for his debut here, with a victory.
“But that is Luca, he is the third keeper. Thibaut (Courtois) was out and I wanted to give Keylor (Navas) a rest after playing with his country. It came out well.”
Madrid confirmed on their website on Saturday evening that Courtois was suffering from tendonitis and it remains to be seen if Navas will come back in for Thursday’s trip to in-form Valencia.
Meanwhile, Benzema’s long-term future remains in doubt but Zidane insists he will keep faith in the 31-year-old who could be set for a summer move away.
“This year is maybe Karim’s best year,” Zidane added.
“I will count on him, there are nine games left, and that is the most important, to finish the season well.
“Then we will see what happens, but Karim is a player at this club. I don’t believe that will change.”
The visitors struck early with Juan Hernandez scoring in the third minute before Isco equalised in the 25th.
Benzema then set up Dani Ceballos just past the hour mark but Xabier Etxeita dragged Huesca level with 15 minutes to play.
A sublime finish from Benzema in the 89th minute though sealed the victory for Los Blancos.
RETURN OF INFLUENTIAL BENZ
Zidane has always relied heavily on compatriot Benzema in the final third and his second coming has been no different. The striker was integral to Madrid’s attacks in a 2-0 win over Celta Vigo before the international break and remained the focal point during the encounter with Huesca.
Not only was the Frenchman central to every move Madrid stitched together but he was creating opportunities out of nothing. He was relentless in his efforts to win physical battles and chase down lost causes while linking up with his team-mates exceptionally.
The only concern was that he struggled to find the back of the net and for most of the game you wondered if his poor conversion rate would hurt Los Merengues. In the first half, he couldn’t guide Alvaro Odriozola’s fizzed ball across the box onto the target and then failed to take the full-back’s second set-up in his stride, only striking a tame shot on the turn into the keeper’s hands.
He was the architect of Madrid’s equaliser but watched helplessly on the deck as Brahim’s cross rolled past him only for Isco to apply the finishing touch. It was his header back across goal that saw Dani Ceballos score the second. It was a superb performance, that was finally capped by the goal it deserved.
With time running out for Madrid, the ball fell to Benzema just inside the area and curled a sublime finish into the top corner for the winner.
BRAHIM’S BRIGHT DISPLAY
All eyes were on Luca Zidane as his father afforded him a rare start in goal, ahead of Keylor Navas, but it was another youngster making his full debut for Madrid who stole the limelight.
Brahim Diaz started on the left flank and was a real creative force. He was confident in front of an unforgiving Bernabeu crowd and consistently popped up in great positions. His link-up with Benzema was sublime before assisting Isco for the equaliser.
Zidane’s reinstatement was always going to bring about a shuffle in the pack and early signs suggest Sergio Reguilon is destined to be one of the losers in that exercise. Having displaced accomplished left-back Marcelo under Santiago Solari’s regime, Zidane’s return has seen the Brazilian regain his spot in the first XI ahead of the 22-year-old.
For how long that dynamic remains though is up for debate. Marcelo is doing himself no favours by committing the glaring mistakes he just can’t seem to avoid. Fingers of blame will largely be pointed at Nacho for Huesca’s early breakthrough but closer inspection may reveal the full-back was equally at fault if not more.
Marcelo was the one who initially lost possession and was caught out of position as Madrid were attacked down his flank. Nacho had shuttled across to cover for the 30-year-old when he lost an individual battle that led to the chance.
Meanwhile, Marcelo had ambled into the box but predictably failed to mark anyone as Ezequiel Avila squared the ball for Juan Hernandez to stroke home under no pressure. The left-back continued to lose possession as the game progressed.
It’s no secret that Marcelo has been on the wane but he remains a force going forward and therein lies Zidane’s dilemma. With Madrid so devoid of creativity in the final third lately, perhaps he believes the Brazilian’s flair and marauding runs are required. But at what cost?
Sooner or later Zidane may have to accept that Los Blancos’ vulnerabilities are too many and laying a solid foundation at the back is the best way forward.
All hopes of securing silverware this season are lost. Eliminated from the Champions League at the hands of Ajax, Los Merengues were also ousted by Barcelona in the semi-finals of Copa del Rey.
All that’s up for grabs now is a runners-up finish in the league, one that the Catalans are running away with as they have stolen a 13-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid.
Zidane will instead focus on his own side and the inner workings of it against Huesca. A rebuilding job is underway and how they finish this season will have a huge bearing on how they begin the next.
This season remains Madrid’s worst in recent memory and all the issues that conspired to bring them to this point haven’t magically disappeared the moment Zidane walked through the Bernabeu doors again.
The Frenchman won a phenomenal nine trophies during his first spell at the club that only spanned over two and a half seasons. However, he’ll be first to admit that he has a massive job on his hands, just 10 months after leaving the team crowned European champions for a third successive year.
There were glimpses of the old Los Blancos swagger in his first game back – a 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo – but they were few and far between. Nevertheless, his mere presence on the touchline seemed to have a positive effect on his side and indeed the atmosphere within the stadium.
Granted, Zidane seemed to bring about an immediate improvement to certain aspects of Madrid’s play. A fluidity in attack was noticeable with the front three interchanging at will. Of course, the intent may have featured more prominently than the execution but positive signs nonetheless.
Real still have cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid in their sights. Only two points separate them and overtaking Diego Simeone’s side would at least secure a second place finish in La Liga.
Zidane’s mere presence has brought a feel-good factor to the club amid dark times. Call it nostalgia, misguided faith or blind optimism but the Madrid hierarchy will be desperate for the Frenchman to maintain his spell over the club and its fans until he can genuinely improve the team.
ZIDANE NEEDS BALE SPARK
The relationship between Gareth Bale and Zidane is strained to say the least. The Welshman found himself benched on numerous occasions during the 46-year-old’s first spell at club. He even started the 2018 Champions League final as a substitute before coming on to score one of the finest goals the competition has ever seen, winning the game in the process.
So often a scapegoat in the Spanish capital, Zidane must turn to Bale for a sprinkling of stardust. Vinicius Jr, with his youthful exuberance, pace and trickery often posed the only discernible threat in attack for Madrid this season. With the Brazilian injured, that responsibility is returned to Bale.
The former Tottenham winger has the ability to carry the ball forward and make things happen. He scored the only goal in the first fixture against Huesca this season and also struck in Zidane’s first game back. While the team find their feet, they need Bale to let his do the talking.
HOPE FOR HUESCA
Huesca have been punching above their weight all season but still find themselves bottom of the La Liga standings. Their defence and attack are both among the worst in the division but to label them hapless would be doing them a disservice.
As mentioned earlier, only a solitary Bale strike was the difference between these sides in their last meeting. Even though they lost their last two games against Getafe and Alaves, their win over Sevilla in early March proves they aren’t lacking in fight.
Villarreal in 17th place are only seven points ahead so all is not lost yet. Their first ever trip to the Bernabeu on Sunday is also something of a free-hit. There is no expectation of a result from their side and there’s a certain freedom to that. Defeat against Madrid will not seal their fate. It’s games like the following one at home to Celta Vigo which decide their La Liga status for next season.