MADRID: Zinedine Zidane picked up where he left off last June as Real Madrid coach, with a win.
The former French superstar returned at the start of the week after stepping down following the club’s third successive Champions League and to resolve a crisis of results and confidence under short-lived predecessor Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari.
A 2-0 win over Celta Vigo saw Zidane recall Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas in place of Thibaut Courtois while Gareth Bale was also back and scored the decisive second goal.
Navas made a smart early save to deny Maxi Gomez the opening goal, with Isco then repaying the head coach for recalling him too by opening the scoring on the hour mark. Bale shared an often difficult relationship with Zidane during the latter’s original tenure and, with question marks about the Wales star’s long-term future in Madrid still hanging over his head, he made the three points safe with a tidy second goal to kill off any late Celta challenge.
Zidane said: “No one can take away what all these players have achieved in the past. I have a squad of 25 players and I am going to have to count on all of them, on Courtois, Keylor, Isco…
“Those who played today were very good but I am going to use everyone. There are of course those who are sometimes going to be left out, who are not going to play.”
Expanding on his choice to bench Belgian keeper Courtois, who arrived expensively from Chelsea last summer, Zidane added: “It’s not a final decision, there are 10 games left. Thibaut is going to play again and the third goalkeeper is Luca [Zidane].
“That’s three good goalkeepers but Madrid should have three or four great goalkeepers. You cannot contest four, five or six competitions with just one great goalkeeper.”
Real’s greatest concern, after their early Champions League exit is that they are unlikely to close a nine-point gap and beat Barcelona to the La Liga title.
His day grew even better when second-placed Atletico Madrid lost 2-0 at Athletic Bilbao to stay only two points ahead of Zidane’s side.
Bilbao forward Inaki Williams put the home side in front in the 73rd minute, guiding the ball into an empty net after Atletico’s Jose Gimenez had given the ball away in his own half. Kenan Kodro sealed the win for Athletic five minutes from time with a shot that took a huge deflection off Gimenez, piling more pain on Atletico four days after they were knocked out of the Champions League by Juventus.
In Italy . . .
Claudio Ranieri’s Roma side suffered a blow to their top-four hopes in Serie A as Andrea Petagna’s penalty gave struggling SPAL a surprise 2-1 victory.
Mohamed Fares gave SPAL a 22nd-minute lead with a towering header from Thiago Cionek’s cross. Ranieri, put in charge until the end of the season after the departure of Eusebio Di Francesco, shook things up at half-time, bringing on Nicolo Zaniolo and Diego Perotti for Stephan El Shaarawy and Justin Kluivert.
The change paid off as Perotti converted a spot kick in the 53rd minute after Edin Dzeko was brought down in the box. SPAL, battling to stay clear of the drop zone, were not finished though and when Petanga was brought down in the box by Juan Jesus six minutes later he got up to fire home his penalty.
Dzeko was denied an equaliser by a goalline block but SPAL hung on for a precious three points.
Ranieri began his tenure with a 2-1 win over Empoli. Roma stayed in fifth place, three points behind Inter who are in action in the Milan derby today.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been left out of the Juventus squad for today’s match at Genoa after his midweek hat-trick heroics helped his side into the Champions League quarter-finals. The Italian champions have an 18-point lead over Napoli at the top of SerieA.
In Germany . . .
Borussia Dortmund captain Marco Reus’ stoppage-time strike settled a five-goal thriller against 10-man Hertha Berlin at the Olympiastadion to lift his side three points clear of Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga.
Dortmund were twice forced to come from behind via goals from Thomas Delaney and Dan-Axel Zagadou that cancelled out a first-half brace from Salomon Kalou, with his second coming from the penalty spot. After Hertha’s Jordan Torunarigha was dismissed in the 85th minute for two bookable offences, the visitors piled on the pressure, with Germany international Reus grabbing his 19th goal of the season to make it 3-2 two minutes into stoppage time.
In a relegation clash at the WWK Arena, Hanover suffered a fifth straight defeat – and ninth in 10 league games – with a 3-1 loss against Augsburg.
Hannover made a good start, with Hendrik Weydandt capitalising on Augsburg’s inability to clear their lines by heading home his sixth goal of the season from 15 yards. But that was as good it got for Hanover as Augsburg staged a second-half comeback with goals from Sergio Cordova,
Schalke, who sacked head coach Domenico Tedesco and assistant Peter Perchtold on Thursday in the wake of the 7-0 hammering by Manchester City in the Champions League, crashed to a sixth-successive defeat in all competitions – this time 1-0 at home to RB Leipzig.
Under the caretaker stewardship of Huub Stevens, who has coached the club on two previous occasions, Schalke failed to recover from Timo Werner’s 14th-minute strike, with his 12th goal of the season ending a near three-month goal drought.
** Switzerland saw further fan violence when Sion’s home game against strugglng Grasshopper was abandoned after 55 minutes after fireworks were thrown onto the pitch by visiting fans. Sion were leading 2-0 at the time.