Barca win a boost: Zidane

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo finishes past Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and Gerard Pique on the line to score the game's winner and his 29th La Liga goal to lead this season's standings.
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo finishes past Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and Gerard Pique on the line to score the game's winner and his 29th La Liga goal to lead this season's standings. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Real Madrid manager says Clasico upset can set his side up for rest of La Liga season

MADRID • Zinedine Zidane believes Real Madrid's 2-1 Clasico victory could be a "turning point" for their poor Primera Liga season after his side ended Barcelona's 39-match unbeaten run at the Nou Camp on Saturday.

"We are on the right path," said the Frenchman.

"This gives us a huge boost in terms of morale for what remains of the season and for our next game (against Wolfsburg) in the Champions League (quarter-finals) on Wednesday. Winning here is a real prize for us."

Cristiano Ronaldo struck the winner as 10-man Real came from behind to cut Barca's lead over them to seven points with seven games left.

Gerard Pique's towering header put the hosts in front on a night the Catalans honoured legendary former player and coach Johan Cruyff.

  • 1965

  • The last time Real Madrid came from behind to win at the Nou Camp was 51 years ago.

  • 16

  • Real forward Cristiano Ronaldo has scored his 16th Clasico goal, passing Raul (15) for third on the rivalry's all-time scoring list. Lionel Messi (21) leads, with Alfredo di Stefano (18) second.

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  • Saturday was only the third time in 31 La Liga games this season that none of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar scored for Barcelona.

Yet, Karim Benzema quickly levelled before Ronaldo fired home five minutes from time after Madrid captain Sergio Ramos received the 21st red card of his career.

"This can be a turning point," added Zidane, who became the first Real manager to win his first Clasico since Bernd Schuster in 2007.

It could also prove to be a landmark moment in his burgeoning career. The former Real midfielder enhanced his managerial credentials at a time when club president Florentino Perez is believed to be contemplating his ability to lead Los Blancos in the long term.

The reverse fixture had paved the way for Zidane to take charge and he learnt the lessons of predecessor Rafael Benitez's disastrous tactics in Real's 0-4 thrashing by Barcelona last November.

While Benitez, typically defensively minded, picked the Clasico to go all guns blazing, Zidane ripped up the the Galactico blueprint to nullify their archrivals.

The Spaniard picked the attacking midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez; Zidane employed defensive midfielder Casemiro, opting instead to sit and wait for Barcelona.

The result: None of Barcelona's potent front three of Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi or Neymar were able to demonstrate their usual attacking flair.

"Casemiro played a fundamental role," Zidane assessed. "The scorers made the difference but above all, we put in a huge performance defensively against players who can cause you damage if you give them any space."

His astute tactics were hailed by his players and pundits alike.

"We had a game plan, we know we've got speed on the counter-attack, so we used that to our advantage," said Madrid forward Gareth Bale, who had a headed goal controversially ruled out for a foul on Jordi Alba in the 80th minute.

Sky Sports pundit and former Barcelona striker Thierry Henry added: "I like the way Zidane set up the team. They were not scared, they put pressure on when they needed to and kept their composure at 1-0 down.

"They were trying to play from the back under pressure and they looked like a team with the right balance.

"Zidane understood he had to take care of the midfield, especially against Barcelona.

"People wanted to know if tactically he could do something against Barcelona and he did."

But Zidane quelled suggestions Madrid were back in the title hunt with Atletico Madrid still separating Barca and Real at the top.

For Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, the result has already been forgotten. The Spaniard insisted the defeat will not damage his side's title challenge or bid to retain the Champions League and King's Cup.

"This game doesn't exist any more, there's no pain," he said.

"There's nothing else we can do but lift ourselves up. Defeats teach you things, they teach you that every trophy is difficult and the players know that."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2016, with the headline 'Barca win a boost: Zidane'. Print Edition | Subscribe