MADRID (AFP) – Zinedine Zidane brought Real Madrid’s outcasts in from the cold and they repaid him with a win in his first game back as Isco and Gareth Bale each scored in a 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday night.
Isco had not started a single La Liga game under Santiago Solari but opened the scoring here shortly after the hour, before Bale got the goal his own committed display deserved to put sorry Celta out of sight.
Bale was teed up by Marcelo, who was also dropped by Solari but recalled, while Keylor Navas pulled off a superb save in the first half, having been brought back ahead of Thibaut Courtois.
“My team-talk was really simple,” Zidane said. “I just told them to have fun, to play, to run together and to be united when we don’t have the ball. When we have it, let’s have fun, and that’s what we did.”
Even Marco Asensio has been almost anonymous through Madrid’s troubles this season and he seemed rejuvenated too, his weaving run leading to the opener from Isco, who was otherwise the quietest of Zidane’s recovering group.
The victory ends a run of four consecutive home defeats and means Madrid reduce the gap to nine points behind Barcelona.
That deficit will surely prove too big to close but Zidane’s job is to restore morale in the 11 league games that are left and to find out what, and who, needs changing in the summer.
At times, this felt like a pre-season fixture, not just because of the baking hot sun but the relaxed atmosphere and the sense this is now a team on trial.
Bale, whose relationship with Zidane deteriorated to breaking point last season, was arguably the biggest winner, his performance proving there could yet be a place for him in what the club’s president Florentino Perez has dubbed “the glorious new era”.
Marcelo impressed too while Courtois might well wonder what his next couple of months hold, given Navas, an old favourite of Zidane, looks to be back in favour.
“There are 10 games left, today Keylor played, on another day it could be Thibaut,” Zidane said.
“Real Madrid need two or three great goalkeepers. We’ll see what happens next year.”
Zidane had enjoyed his press conference last Friday, joking with journalists about their changed hairstyles and smirking as he admitted he had given the same answers before.
Bale came closest to scoring in the first half with an acrobatic scissor-kick that crashed against the crossbar and later teed up Karim Benzema to tap in, only for the referee to book the Welshman for a foul in the build-up.
In between, Madrid were rather muted, but dominant in possession. Marcelo pulled back for Isco, who slipped, and then watched his fizzing shot from distance pushed away by Ruben Blanco.
Celta found chances on the break but never looked liked converting. Maxi Gomez, with only Ramos to beat, curled wide while Sofiane Boufal’s finish had to be blocked on the line by Marcelo as Madrid were again caught upfield.
Benzema’s goal was ruled out just before half-time and Luka Modric had one chalked off just after, this time video assistant referee (VAR) intervening to show Raphael Varane offside.
Isco’s influence had diminished and Dani Ceballos was ready to replace him just before he scored the opening goal. Asensio made it, a superb run allowing Benzema to cross and Isco to bundle in.
There was still time for Bale to add a second, his touch making space for the shot after Marcelo had slipped him clear. The ball hit the post and then the net.