By Michael Hincks
Zinedine Zidane's bold Real Madrid changes pay off
Isco and Gareth Bale on target as Zidane wins first game back at Real Madrid
Last Updated: 17/03/19 6:04am
Zinedine Zidane made some bold decisions as Real Madrid won their first game back under the Frenchman's guidance. Michael Hincks examines the changes which paid off in the 2-0 win over Celta Vigo.
There were some striking resemblances between the side Zidane walked out on last summer and the one which ran out for the start of his second stint at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
In fact, there were just three changes from the starting XI which beat Liverpool in last season's Champions League final, compared to five from last Sunday's win over Real Valladolid, which proved to be Santiago Solari's last game in charge.
Zidane's last XI in 2018 and first XI in 2019
Real XI vs Liverpool: Navas, Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Modric, Casemiro, Kroos, Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo. Subs: Nacho, Bale, Asensio.
Real XI vs Celta Vigo: Navas, Odriozola, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Modric, Kroos, Isco, Asensio, Benzema, Bale. Subs: Ceballos, Valverde, Mariano.
From out of the wilderness, Isco and Marcelo featured from the off. Isco was making his first league start since Julen Lopetegui's final match at the helm - the 5-1 defeat at Barcelona in October - while Marcelo was enjoying just his fourth league start of 2019.
Meanwhile, Zidane's reversion to familiar faces also saw Keylor Navas get the nod in goal ahead of summer recruit Thibaut Courtois, and having missed the win over Valladolid due to injury, Gareth Bale returned after a week where his future at the club was thrown into the spotlight once more.
Bale played a pivotal role in delivering Real a third straight Champions League title last May, but despite scoring twice in the final against Liverpool, it was the fact Zidane started him on the bench which saw the Welshman admit afterwards he may leave in search of regular first-team football. However, talk of a move away was somewhat quashed when Zidane ended up departing instead.
Some 10 months later, an injury to 18-year-old winger Vinicius Jr - who is likely to be out for the season - could well have forced Zidane's hand in naming Bale in his first line-up back, but the 29-year-old certainly proved his worth in the first of 11 auditions before the summer.
Bale's match stats vs Celta
- Goals: 1
- Shots: 3
- Key passes: 1
- Tackles: 3
- Passes: 43
- Touches: 66
Moments after rattling the bar with a Paolo Di Canio-style scissor kick in the first half, Bale was back at the other end making a sliding tackle and winning a goal kick in the process.
It was one of three tackles he made - more than any other Real player - and it was this dogged determination in defence, as much as his well-taken goal in the second half, which outlined his desire to play for a team he has long been linked away from.
There will almost inevitably be talks with Zidane to come, as indicated by Bale's agent Jonathan Barnett, but Saturday's display made Bale's intentions as clear as any words off the pitch could.
Meanwhile, few will have celebrated Zidane's return as much as Isco, who started 36 games under the Frenchman last season, but had found himself in the starting XI just 11 times under Solari and Julen Lopetegui in the current campaign.
Isco was not even in the squad as Real capitulated at home to Ajax in the Champions League two weeks ago, but was beaming even ahead of kick-off as he started against Celta Vigo.
And the Spaniard duly repaid the manager's faith in scoring the first goal of the second Zidane era, tapping in from Karim Benzema's cross, while an impressive display also saw the 26-year-old make three key passes with an overall accuracy of 97.2 per cent from 36 passes.
Marcelo too, who had lost his place to Sergio Reguilon under Solari, showed his attacking prowess against struggling Celta, providing the assist for Bale and sending in six crosses overall.
Even Navas enjoyed a standout moment in goal for Real, with Courtois watching on as his goalkeeping rival produced a stunning save from point-blank range to tip over Maxi Gomez's header, in what was Celta's only effort on target.
That battle for the No 1 jersey will resume as the season draws to a close, while Zidane has 10 more games to evaluate his squad before he considers what changes need to be made.
The performances of Bale, Isco and Marcelo in particular have left him with plenty to ponder, and Zidane can only hope that vigour will continue after the international break.