04 April 2016

Zidane makes his mark

My Column for Marca

Real MadridThe Frenchman came out on top in his personal duel with Luis Enrique

This was the biggest test of Zinedine Zidane's tenure as Real Madrid boss to date, and he passed with flying colours. 
Madrid were at a low ebb when he took charge and although initially there had been some concerns over the difference between their performances at home and away, on Saturday he silenced the doubters. 
Not only did they come from behind, but, in doing so with ten men, he tactically outwitted Barcelona's treble winning manager.
His side also managed to shackle the seemingly unstoppable MSN frontline of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar who put in subdued performances against an obdurate merengue backline. 
Rather than bring on another defender following Sergio Ramos' sending-off, he kept full faith in maintaining a complete complement of attackers and the gamble paid dividends.
Indeed it was those final 15 minutes, either side of the sending off, that Madrid really sprang to life. 
Cristiano Ronaldo netted the winner, but there was no question of sitting deep - Los Blancos might even have extended their advantage in the closing stages. 
This willingness to attack caught cold a Barcelona side that seemed to have run out of gas, and the strategy is to Zidane's credit. 
Questions were asked over his tactical nous when he came off second best to Diego Simeone in the Madrid derby, but this one was won on the chalkboard. 
What's more, Zizou lifted the curse that's burdened new Madrid coaches for almost a decade. 
Not since 2007, under Bernd Schuster, had a Real coach succeeded in winning his first clash against the Catalans.
It happened to Manuel Pellegrini, there was the infamous 5-0 under Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti suffered a narrow defeat and of course there was this season's drubbing at the Bernabeu under Rafa Benítez. 
Nine long years on, Zidane bucked that trend to emerge victorious.
And it couldn't have come at a better time. 
In the early part of his time in charge, there has been criticism over performances on the road but now Madrid have won each of their last three away games. 
Indeed, they are on their best run of the season now with six straight victories in all competitions. 
At the weekend they faced the most daunting of challenges, and prevailed.
Zidane himself recognised after the match that this victory could prove a real shot in the arm as far as morale goes.
The Champions League is entering its final stages and although three points here brings them closer to the summit in the league, it's the renewed confidence it brings that could prove the biggest filip.
Madrid were at an emotional low point when he took over, but this victory shows that he's managed to make a real impact in his three months at the helm.

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