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Zidane justified by Carvajal first-team return

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Dani Carvajal made his first appearance in more than a month for Saturday's 5-0 thrashing of Deportivo. The right-back role is now his to lose.

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Zinedine Zidane may have sprinkled his magic over Real Madrid in his first game in charge but the return of someone else also made a big and positive impact on the 5-0 demolition of Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.

Dani Carvajal has been waiting for over a month to return to first team action and the club's youth product did everything possible to ensure he keeps his starting role under his new French coach, including providing one assist.

While ‘Zizou' grabbed the headlines for overseeing an impressive victory in his first game at the helm of Los Blancos and Gareth Bale also took the plaudits for his scintillating hat-trick, Carvajal completed the jigsaw at right-back with a top-drawer performance.

It was the 24-year-old's first match since the 2-0 win at Eibar at the end of November and his first outing at the Santiago Bernabeu since being a second-half substitute in the 4-0 embarrassment against Barcelona in El Clasico. His last start on home soil before Saturday's match came in the 0-0 stalemate against Malaga in September.

Carvajal's return was timely. Madrid had struggled under Rafa Benitez but the one player who stuck out like a sore thumb was Danilo, battling for a starting role with the Spanish international after his big-money summer arrival from Porto.

Despite being out of action for over a month, the former Bayer Leverkusen man showed no signs of rust against a Depor side who may not have been expected to take anything from the Spanish capital but a Depor side who are a vast improvement on last season. Indeed, the Galicians threatened in the opening stages of the match and Madrid looked far from convincing at the back but those concerns soon went away and Carvajal's role was key on the right.

The changes from the 2-2 draw at Valencia that brought the end for Benitez were few but they were enough to ensure a vast improvement. Mateo Kovacic, suspended after his dismissal at Mestalla, was replaced by Isco rather than James Rodriguez in midfield and the only other change of the match saw Caevajal take the place of Danilo.

Whether politics played a part remains to be seen. Carvajal has been injured this season but plenty have been surprised at how long it has taken the defender to return to action. Benitez stuck with Danilo until his final match and questions over whether the use of the Brazilian in the starting eleven was mandatory for president Florentino Perez may have been asked by Zidane.

Whether they were or not, the return of the club's youth product was the right decision by the Frenchman and his decision was justified. Danilo clearly has quality in his locker but things have yet to click during a tricky start to life in the Spanish capital. Carvajal, up until his injury set-back, had been superior.

Perhaps the defender's return had a knock-on impact on the rest of the team, too. The back four, with Raphael Varane seemingly set to slot in when he is fully fit, looked better if not as strong as the start of the campaign. The knowledge that back four collected playing together last season made them stronger and the mindset looked of a more comfortable nature.

So too did three-goal man Bale. While the front three switched around in attack, both Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo looked more comfortable down the right with Carvajal playing behind them, as did the middle three. Not all of that can be put down to Carvajal's presence, of course, but it helped.

Not only have Danilo's defensive capabilities been brought into question in recent weeks and months, but his positional sense has too, especially when joining the attack. Carvajal's decision making on exactly when to get forward is more advanced. He won't surge forward and leave the defence at risk.

This isn't to say Carvajal is to stay. Indeed, Madrid will want to give as much time as possible for Danilo to adapt to life, and expectations, at the world's biggest club. Indeed, Carvajal shone under Zidane but so too may Danilo under a new playing style and a new coach. He is yet to fully experience the Zidane impact.

For now, Zizou and Los Blancos need to stick with the former Castilla man, injury-permitting, and get some forward momentum going in the league. The right-back role should be his to lose but this is one competitive battle that is set to continue, and hopefully for the best.