A brace from Mariano and Jesus Vallejo’s close-range strike ultimately gave the home side all three points, although Villarreal had been on level terms through Gerard Moreno and created numerous chances before Jaume Costa scored in the fourth minute of injury time.
Despite Karim Benzema being ruled out through injury, Bale was deemed surplus to requirements by Zidane, fuelling speculation that Bale will leave the Bernabeu in the summer.
“I’m the coach, I have to pick the team and that’s all there is to it,” Zidane said of his decision to leave Bale out in quotes published on the club’s official website.
“You can interpret it as you wish. I need to pick a squad of players and some are going to miss out.”
Real bounced back from a stunning 1-0 defeat at lowly Rayo Vallecano last week and Zidane added: “We played much better than the other day and I feel much happier now, as do the players.
“We won the game at our ground and I’m pleased. It was a rather end-to-end game and when you’re 3-1 up you shouldn’t be letting them score, but we did. It’s a variety of things, tiredness, the heat, but we didn’t finish the game brilliantly.”
The home side took the lead after just two minutes when former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla dawdled in possession deep in Villarreal’s half, allowing Brahim Diaz to nip in and tee up Mariano, who got between two defenders to stab home.
Moreno equalised in the 11th minute but Vallejo restored Real’s lead before the interval and a brilliant cross from Dani Carvajal gave Mariano an easy close-range finish for his second goal of the game early in the second half.
Speaking about Mariano’s performance, Zidane added: “Of course he’s not had too many opportunities because he’s been injured, he’s been out for a long time. Mariano got his chance to play today and he’s scored twice, I’m happy for him.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Pogba’s Old Trafford future appears increasingly uncertain and he has been repeatedly linked with a big-money summer switch to the Bernabeu.
Zidane has a major rebuilding job on his hands in the Spanish capital at the end of a torrid campaign in which the club have sacked two managers and currently sit 18 points adrift of champions Barcelona.
But the Frenchman, who was reappointed eight weeks ago after leaving last summer, would not be drawn on speculation linking him with a move for compatriot Pogba.
“I said that he’s a good player, but you could ask me about another player and I’d tell you the same thing,” said Zidane, according to Real‘s website.
“I said that he’s a good player and also that I know him. I’m not going to say any more because if things work out well, you’re excused, but if you say something daft…
“Pogba is a Manchester United player, he’s a very good one but he plays for Manchester United.
“We’ll see at the end of the season who goes and who stays. I didn’t say anything about us signing Pogba. I’m not going to say anything until things are done”.
Real are destined to finish third in La Liga behind bitter foes Barca and city rivals Atletico Madrid, while their hopes of a fourth successive Champions League title were ended by Ajax a week before Zidane’s return.
Los Blancos have three fixtures remaining, starting with Sunday’s visit of Villarreal.
Zidane, whose team have taken just two points from their last four away games, is keen to return home and has urged his players to restore the pride of the Real fans as a difficult campaign draws to a close.
“We want to continue our winning run at the Bernabeu. We’ve got the chance to do just that and to show everyone that we’re keen to end the season strongly and put in good performances,” said Zidane.
“We enjoy playing at the Bernabeu and we’re going to try and make sure that the fans are proud of all of the players.
“We’ve had our struggles, the season has been a tough one and they’re aware of the fact. But we want to, at the very least, put in a good performance tomorrow.”
Zidane, who will once again be without injured trio Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Odriozola this weekend, has been in contact with former Real team-mate Iker Casillas.
Goalkeeper Casillas, now playing for Porto, was taken to hospital this week after suffering a heart attack.
“The first thing I want to do is to send my support to Iker on the club’s behalf,” said Zidane.
“I sent him a message yesterday and he’s in good spirits and is doing better. We send him all of our strength.
“He has to be relaxed, recover properly and focus on resting. He looks to be in good spirits.”
Villarreal, in 14th place, can banish any lingering relegation fears in Madrid.
Head coach Javi Calleja told his club’s website: “Winning there would be ideal, especially so we would have a pay-off for all the hard work we’ve put in so we could confirm staying up.
“They’re one of the best teams in the world with players who’ve won everything and we know how difficult getting a positive result would be.
“It will be complicated, but we trust ourselves to play well to get the three points.”
Striker Carlos Bacca is an injury doubt for the visitors, while Toko Ekambi is suspended.
It was the latest humiliation in a season full of them, as Madrid produced an abject display against a side that had lost 5-0 to Sevilla in midweek.
Here’s a look at the talking points as Zinedine Zidane ponders the ramifications of another shocking result.
ZIDANE NEEDS TO TAKE CALL ON MODRIC AND OTHER KEY PLAYERS
It’s hard to believe Luka Modric was voted the best player in the world less than a year ago. He looks a shadow of that player at the moment, and has done for the better part of this season. Modric gave the ball away seven times within the first half an hour, and never got better.
Either the fatigue of a season that saw him help Madrid win the Champions League and then a summer where he spearheaded Croatia’s unlikely run to the World Cup final, coupled with a short preseason, has led to Modric never finding his rhythm this season, or this is one of the more stunning declines in recent memory.
Modric isn’t the only culprit – Toni Kroos looks some ways short of his best, as do Raphael Varane and Gareth Bale. Zidane has to decide if some key players simply need rejuvenation, or to be moved on.
Madrid tonight summed up a bit there: two players get in each others’ way, neither clears properly, ball scuffed to Modric, who passes it straight out of play.— The Spanish Football Podcast (@tsf_podcast) April 28, 2019
GRAND NIGHT FOR VALLECANO AMID RELEGATION SCRAP
Even after Sunday’s result Rayo are almost certainly heading down – they’re six points from safety with just three games to play. But though that’s a grim reality, on Sunday they’ll be singing and dancing in the streets of Vallecas for quite a while. This may not be a vintage Real Madrid but it’s not often that Rayo beat their storied neighbours.
And it’s not just that they won. They were genuinely the better side. Paco Jemez’s side had more shots and shots on target, and went nearly toe-to-toe with Madrid on possession – it ended 50.5% to 49.5% in Los Blancos’ favour.
There is glory in the classic backs-to-the-wall job as well, but Rayo outplayed the team that has won the last three Champions League titles.
If one of Madrid’s so-called lesser clubs are indeed going down, they’re heading there after one of the most famous nights in the club’s history.
Rayo Vallecano have beaten Real Madrid in La Liga for the first time in 22 years! 👏 pic.twitter.com/oPIhQktTcS— Goal (@goal) April 28, 2019
MARIANO FAILS TO MAKE HIS CASE
What did Zidane learn about Mariano Diaz on Sunday?
Making his first start under the Frenchman, the successor to Cristiano Ronaldo’s No7 shirt put in a spirited display as lead striker Karim Benzema was given a rest.
There was plenty of passion and commitment, and a few moments of quality – the lobbed finish he produced in the first half was brilliant, though delivered from a clearly offside position and thus rightly chalked off. He also should have had an assist, teeing up an unmarked Bale in the box only for the Welshman to squander the opportunity.
But that was about it. The striker showed plenty of heart, but nothing to convince Zidane that he deserves a run in the side ahead of a summer in which a striker will be prioritised in the transfer window.
Mariano is, remember, the only striker Madrid bought last summer after losing Ronaldo to Juventus. It was meant to be a feted return for a talented player who had left Los Blancos for Lyon, starred, and was deemed ready for the step up. At the moment that judgment looks flawed.
Meanwhile Bale missed this after Mariano set him up. pic.twitter.com/gTavNju4zn— M•A•J (@Ultra_Suristic) April 28, 2019