Zinedine Zidane’s return as Real Madrid’s head coach — which was a whirlwind of pre-match positivity and a refreshing jolt to the team atmosphere — begins with a win over Celta Vigo, and goal for Isco. It was a script almost too perfect to write.
Zidane’s starting XI today was almost nostalgic. The Frenchman brought Marcelo, Isco, and Keylor Navas back into the fold, and rolled out a team that almost mirrored a line-up of players he coached prior — with the one exception being Alvaro Odriozola starting over Dani Carvajal, who wasn’t available for this match.
This was a party upon kick-off, but it was a party that looked like a giant balloon in the sky that was getting slowly deflated. Real Madrid didn’t create much in the first half (although, there was a moment where Odriozola’s counter-press led to a brilliant through-ball from Benzema to Marcelo, who cut it back to a spinning Isco. Had that gone in, the universe would’ve broke). Zidane’s men didn’t control or dominate the play, had a messy defensive sequence that led to a brilliant Keylor Navas save, and their press was either non-existent, or bypassed easily — all this against the most free-falling team in La Liga.
It wasn’t awful, it wasn’t great — it was somewhere in the middle. The biggest positive from the first half was Gareth Bale, who looked more involved than he’d been in a long time. He was playing as a two-way winger, was everywhere defensively (most of my positive notes in the first 45 minutes came from Bale pressing players into losing the ball, or tracking back to help Odriozola or Marcelo), and was putting in dangerous balls into the box. After around 21 minutes, he swapped flanks with Marco Asensio, and both players seemed to thrive in their respective flanks.
In the second half, Real Madrid’s incisiveness improved. The first-half crosses turned into one-twos in the box before getting the ball played square to a white shirt. Asensio began to really take players on, and he was the architect of the team’s opening goal, where he broke Celta’s line for the third time in the early stages of the second half:
Beautiful run of play by RM starting with a great run and through ball by Asensio to Big Benz and finish by Isco ✊ pic.twitter.com/iOqiwp8WMI— IZZYC (@ICotto12) March 16, 2019
The floodgates opened, somewhat, after that. Real Madrid didn’t sling a manita, but Celta, who had defended the final-third well for the majority of the game, loosened up, and Marcelo, Asensio, Modric, Bale, and Benzema started to increase their intensity. Marcelo set-up Bale for Real Madrid’s second goal:
Zidane’s three subs: Fede Valverde, Dani Ceballos, and Mariano — just in case you were worried that the Frenchman would forget about the youngsters.
We’ll break this down more in the coming hours.