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Zinedine Zidane answered his critics in the best possible way

Real Madrid rounded off a perfect week by winning the Madrid derby in style

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Of all the headlines in the run-up to the Atlético game on Saturday night, this was the one that tickled me most: ’’Unbeaten Atlético Madrid face their struggling rivals Real Madrid at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano’’.

Pardon? Whoever wrote that description of the Madrid derby must have been cringing long before Dani Carvajal’s strike ended up in the net, helping to round off a satisfying week for Zinedine Zidane which will have silenced the critics for a day or so at least.

Despite previous talk about not everyone in the Real dressing room backing Zinedine Zidane, it would have been hard to find anyone who played against Atlético with any type of attitude other than a winner’s mentality.

It’s a long time since I’ve seen Diego Simeone taking defeat to heart that way. Cholo’s usually animated and passionate on the side-lines, but I think even he was surprised by the way Real controlled the game from start to finish and his body language at one point in the second half said everything.

We even had the situation of Cholo resorting to acting as peacemaker by restraining Stefan Savić from accosting referee Matéo Lahoz at time up.

Real Madrid have stepped up a couple of gears since losing to Alavés and Shakhtar Donetsk and it showed on Saturday night. Real’s response to those two defeats started last weekend by winning in Sevilla before seeing off Borussia Mönchengladbach in midweek to progress in the Champions League.

The Sevilla game was strangely reminiscent of an earlier visit to the Sánchez Pizjuan a few years ago when anything other than a win was supposed to see the end of Zidane’s previous reign at the Bernabéu.

The critics were wrong on that occasion as well. Just like in last weekend’s game, Real Madrid were united to a man and delivered a thoroughly business-like performance before getting on the team bus and heading back to the capital without making any fuss.

Back to the present though and it was particularly satisfying to see players like Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos who have proved themselves as undisputed leaders once again consolidating their recent return from injury by well and truly playing their part on the field.

Neither of these two are shy of playing their part off the pitch either. As we have seen in recent weeks, both are quick enough to come out and back Zinedine Zidane in public at times when the criticism is at its fiercest. You can tell from their facial expressions that their support is genuine and not just intended for the cameras.

The injury situation this season has meant that the experience these two bring to the field has been sorely missed. It’s fair to say that the difference is obvious when either or both are in the starting eleven.

But as we know only too well, opportunities to rest between games this season are few and far between. Dani Carvajal was keen to remind everyone that they now need to turn their attention to the forthcoming match with Athletic Bilbao at the Alfredo Di Stéfano on Tuesday night.

And just to round Zidane’s night off perfectly, Fede Valverde made an appearance from the substitute’s bench, thereby scoring another name off Real Madrid’s injury list.

Having been out with an injury described by Real’s medical team as a fracture of the posterior aspect of the tibia, his return to play date has been difficult to predict. With so many different types of fractures possible, it would be futile to have tried to estimate this without having the specific medical information available.

Injuries don’t tend to fit as neatly into boxes in real life as they do in the textbooks since there’s always the unpredictable factor that needs to be accounted for. There could have been any number of reasons why Fede was out for such a long time, but the important thing is that he’s back.

Real are still short of having a fully fit squad though, but irrespective of those still working towards a return to fitness, Zidane will surely be pleased after having had so many players out at the same time in recent weeks.

Barring any injuries that might need attention following the derby, the focus will now be on preparations for the visit of Athletic Club on Tuesday.

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Posted by Managing Madrid on Sunday, December 13, 2020

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