Zinedine Zidane's second spell as head coach at Real Madrid has begun auspiciously after the team secured its first win in a month and a half at the Santiago Bernabeu home ground stadium.
The French former playing great called upon the squad's "old guard," including goalie Keylor Navas, left-back Marcelo, playmaker Francisco "Isco" Alarcon and winger Gareth Bale into his starting lineup against Celta Vigo.
That quartet of players rewarded Zidane's trust in Matchday 28 action, out of 38, on Saturday, with Isco and Bale finding the back of the net, Marcelo assisting on the second goal and Navas keeping a clean sheet, giving the capital side a 2-0 win.
The keys to Zidane success as a second-time-around coach are as follows:
1. Relying on a successful line-up:
The Frenchman included up to eight players in the starting line-up who won the UEFA Champions League title in Kiev.
Zidane was expected to count on 10 players from that squad, but right-back Daniel Carvajal was injured and midfielder Casemiro was serving a one-match suspension for accumulation of yellow cards.
Zidane preferred to rely on the same players who were vital elements of his wildly successful initial tenure as manager of Madrid from Jan. 2016 to May 2018, winning three consecutive Champions League titles and a La Liga crown.
Although some of those players had been given limited playing minutes under the Frenchman's predecessor, Santiago Solari, Zidane bet on them and the result was a comfortable win such as the club had not seen in a while.
2. Reverting back to Navas as goalkeeper:
Zidane did not pay much attention to the fact that Thibaut Courtois had been the best keeper in the 2018 FIFA World Cup as was the club's recent acquisition in the summer.
He put Navas back in the starting lineup after being the second choice under Julen Lopetegui, who replaced Zidane at the beginning of the season and Solari, then, followed in his footsteps.
Despite the 46-year-old Zidane’s idea of rotation, Navas is his first choice for the goalkeeper position, and the Costa Rican proved his worth one more time with an outstanding save against Celta.
“Zidane speaks to you to your face," Navas said after his clean sheet, apparently sending a message to Solari.
3. Isco, from being the subject of an inquiry to scoring for the first time in six months:
The Spanish international talent suffered a conflict with his former coach, Solari, which harmed Isco’s image.
Solari never included the player in the starting XI in La Liga, as the last time Isco made the starting line-up was in the 5-1 defeat to arch-rival Barcelona on Oct. 28, the result that ended Lopetegui’s short spell at the club.
Solari often said that if Isco was not prepared to be fully physically fit he could not expect to play, a sideways reference that he considered Isco to be work-shy.
Zidane, by contrast, included him since the beginning of the match, and Isco, who was not 100 percent fit, was however up to expectations; asking for the ball, taking responsibility and even finding the back of the net for the first time in La Liga in six months.
Isco who was supposed to be one of the team’s references after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure during the summer, has been sat on the bench and even relegated to the stands, and the player started to misbehave and the club had to open an inquiry against him.
Zidane, however, did not care for any of that and gambled on Isco’s innate talent to earn back a star that had stopped shining.
4. Marcelo’s first La Liga assist this season:
It has taken almost the whole season for Marcelo to be involved in his team’s score sheet as the Brazilian international managed to earn trust back, as he played the whole match Saturday.
Marcelo, who fell out of favor with Solari after the team’s 2-1 defeat to Girona on Feb. 17, did not disappoint Zidane as he delivered his first La Liga assist in the season when he set Bale up for the second goal vs Celta with a low cross from the left side.
He still lacked a fully competitive rhythm after having been left on the bench under Solari.
Nevertheless, Zidane again preferred to recover his big references and boosted the moral of such players and the whole squad.
5. Asensio shines back again:
Nothing was different in Madrid during the first 45-minutes against Celta, however, it was Asensio who changed that after the break as he recovered his true identity.
He started again to show his talent and courage, getting past the opponent players, and it was one of his plays that paved the way for the opener, a goal that led the whole team to regain confidence.
Asensio, who saw his role with the club marginalized since he sustained an injury in the FIFA Club World Cup, was also one of those players who were Zidane’s priority after his return to the Bernabeu.
By Roberto Morales