MADRID • Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo gave a ringing endorsement of new coach Zinedine Zidane and handed a rebuke to his sacked predecessor Rafael Benitez, after Sunday's 5-1 La Liga victory at home to Sporting Gijon.
Real have comfortably won both their matches since Zidane took over this month, a 5-0 thrashing of Deportivo La Coruna and Sunday's demolition of lowly Gijon.
And Ronaldo said the players had a better relationship with the former Real and France great, who is known as "Zizou", than with the unpopular Benitez.
The Spaniard was discarded after less than half a season, with Real trailing Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga.
"To be honest, with some coaches you have more empathy than with others," Ronaldo said after netting a double at the Bernabeu.
"The truth is, don't ask me why, that the players have more empathy with Zizou."
The Portugal forward added: "I never had a bad opinion of Rafa. He always did the best for Madrid but he sees football in a different way to Zizou."
Ronaldo said the 1998 World Cup winner had given the squad a boost and he was excited about the rest of the season, with Real two points behind second-placed Barca in La Liga and a further two behind Atletico (47 points).
"He (Zidane) is a calm person, serious in his work and fun outside of it," Ronaldo said.
"He has an empathy with the players and I am very happy and excited. It's an interesting moment for me and the players. We are in good shape and working hard."
Meanwhile, Barcelona manager Luis Enrique insisted his decision to remove Lionel Messi at half- time of the European champions' 6-0 thrashing of Athletic Bilbao on Sunday was a precaution taken with their fixture list in mind.
"We have to wait and see what the tests say, but it was a slight strain and we preferred not to risk it," said Enrique.
Barca face Bilbao once more in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final tomorrow. Should the holders get through, they will have played 17 games this month and next month alone.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE