Real Madrid wins in Zidane’s debut as head coach
MADRID (AP) — Zinedine Zidane’s head-coaching career got off to a winning start as Real Madrid defeated Deportivo La Coruna 5-0 in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Gareth Bale had a hat trick and Karim Benzema scored twice, including with a back-heel flick.
Zidane received a warm welcome at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, with fans loudly cheering the former galactico before and after the game. It was a completely different atmosphere compared to when Rafa Benitez was in charge. Benitez was jeered in nearly every game since a demoralizing 4-0 home loss to Barcelona in November, a result that ignited a crisis at the Spanish giant.
“The fans were behind the team from the first minute until the end. It was a great atmosphere,” Zidane said. “But we have to understand that this was only the first game, we have to keep winning. The goal is to keep playing well and keep winning games.”
Real Madrid moved to within two points of Barcelona, which earlier defeated Granada 4-0 with a hat trick by Lionel Messi and a goal by Neymar.
Third-place Atletico Madrid was one point behind Barcelona and can regain the lead when it plays at fifth-place Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Barcelona will have a game in hand after the 19th round this weekend.
Zidane, who thrived at Madrid until retiring in 2006, stepped up from Madrid’s B team when Benitez was fired this week after seven months on the job.
“It means a lot to me to be here,” Zidane said. “I want to enjoy this win.”
Benzema opened the scoring by using his back heel to redirect Sergio Ramos’ shot off a corner, then Bale headed in a cross from Dani Carvajal seven minutes later, and found the net from close range after a cross by Cristiano Ronaldo to open the second half. Bale’s third goal was another header, and Benzema’s second came in the game’s last play.
Ronaldo’s best opportunity was when he struck the post with a first-half header.
At the Camp Nou, Messi scored twice within the first 15 minutes and added his third in the second half. Neymar closed the scoring late.
Barcelona had drawn four of its last six matches but was coming off a 4-1 win over city rival Espanyol in the Copa del Rey. It had been held by Espanyol to a scoreless draw in the previous league round.
“I’m very satisfied with how the team played today,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “Everybody was focused from the beginning. The players knew how important it was to win these three points.”
Barcelona dominated Granada, which was only 17th in the 20-team standings.
“We could have scored more,” Barcelona defender Aleix Vidal said. “But the main thing was to get the three points. We are back in the lead, now we’ll see what happens in the other matches.”
Messi found the net from close range in the eighth minute after a pass from Arda Turan, then bagged his second six minutes later by striking an open net after a pass by Suarez. Messi’s third goal came after Neymar struck the post and the ball rebounded to Messi inside the area for his ninth league goal.
It was Messi’s first hat trick of the season, and 33rd of his career. He is favored to win a record fifth Ballon d’Or on Monday, from a shortlist with Neymar and Ronaldo.
Neymar sealed Barcelona’s victory from close range, scoring his 15th league goal to tie Suarez as the competition’s leading scorer. Ronaldo has 14.
Dani Alves, who this week called Spanish media “garbage” for the way it covers soccer, came off the bench in the second half and was loudly cheered by the Barcelona fans.
The club initially condemned Alves’ comments, but late Friday said it would give its support to the player in case a local association of sports media went ahead with its threat to sue the Brazilian right back.
Also, Sevilla defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-0 to win its eighth straight home game and move to sixth in the standings.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni