Real Madrid open Zidane era with dominant win over Deportivo
The Zinedine Zidane era at Real Madrid has begun with aplomb.
Karim Benzema opened the account somewhat controversially and finished it with a stoppage time goal, while Gareth Bale produced a spectacular hat trick to make Zidane's debut memorable as Real rolled over Deportivo La Coruna, 5-0 Saturday night in a Santiago Berneubeu which loudly embraced its team's flair and its new leader.
Third-placed Real closed to within two points of Barcelona atop La Liga, but their championship archrivals have a game in hand. They remain a point behind city rival Atletico, who play at Celta Vigo Sunday with a chance to reclaim the top spot.
Deportivo was hardly a soft touch for Zidane to start his tenure against, eighth in the La Liga table and on the fringe of a European spot. They might well have grabbed an early lead but for a fine Keylor Navas yet once Real got on top there was never going to be an unhappy ending to the new boss' first night. If there was a hint of doubt about the opening goal, Bale's night was exquisite and the movement of the Madrid attack was often of the highest level. In the end, despite never throwing in the towel, Deportivo simply couldn't cope.
Zidane, one of the game's greatest players when he led France to World Cup and European glory, was named boss earlier in the week after Rafa Benitez was sacked despite having the Galacticos challenging for the La Liga title and safely through to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Benitez had been under pressure from the club's fans for the style he was teaching, but a 4-0 loss to Barcelona in the season's first "clasico" doubtless contributed to his early exit.
The new manager had Dani Carvajal, previously sidelined with a thigh injury, available to start at right back -- Danilo went to the bench -- and Isco took a midfield spot from James Rodriguez, but Zidane's side was not radically different with it's usual BBC -- Bale, Benzema, Cristiano -- frontline in place. James came on for the final 25 minutes in a substitute's role.
If there seemed to be a bit more freedom in the attack that might be down to the fact that Deportivo was looking to go forward as well, so there was no bunker for Real to have to scale, but there certainly appeared to be a joy to the Madrid game that had not always been there recently. The 70,000-plus crowd appreciated the fact that their favorites never quit trying to create.
Benzema's opening goal was a fine back-heel after Sergio Ramos kept a corner alive, sending the ball forward where the scorer and Bale were waiting with their backs to goal. Replays showed that Benzema was just onside when he directed the ball to the low right corner but there was a question about Bale, looking both offside and in the play. Deportivo protested to referee Perez Montero to no affect.
Bale made it 2-0 in the 22nd minute with a perfect header to Carvajal's cross from the right, the finish the result of Benzema spotting the back with plenty of room to attack down the wing. The cross was right on the Welshman's head and the shot was powered down and away from keeper German Lux.
Bale's second came from Ronaldo in the 49th minute, but the finish was far from ordinary, a left-footed first-time strike under some defensive pressure. Cristiano had plenty of room out wide to measure the delivery, Bale then applied the needed touch, slotting his shot just inside the near right post.
The third from the Welshman was another header, this in the 63rd minute when he met a Toni Kroos corner to the near post, getting above defenders to again find the near post corner of the net.
Bale even found time to make a saving tackle on Lucas after he had completed his hat trick, beating the Deportivo striker at the top of the box after tracking back to defend. He then his place to Jese with 17 minutes to play.
Benzema's second came in stoppage time when he hammered it into the top net after Jese found Ronaldo with a cross, the defense closed down on Cristiano but could not prevent Benzema from finishing the night in style.