MADRID (Reuters) - Zinedine Zidane’s second spell as Real Madrid coach got off to a promising start with a 2-0 home win over Celta Vigo in La Liga on Saturday thanks to goals from Isco and Gareth Bale, who had fallen out of favour with previous coach Santiago Solari.
Spain midfielder Isco was handed his first start in the league since October by returning hero Zidane and broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute by tapping in a low cross from Karim Benzema at close range.
Luka Modric had a goal ruled out for offside earlier in the second half and Bale, who had struck the crossbar in the first period, sealed victory with a shot in off the post in the 77th minute, further lifting the mood at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Real are third in the standings with 54 points after 28 games, two behind second-placed Atletico Madrid who lost 2-0 at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, and nine points adrift of leaders Barcelona who play at Real Betis on Sunday.
This was not quite as resounding a performance as the 5-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna in Zidane’s first game as Real coach in 2016.
Yet it was still a therapeutic win for a team who had looked lost since the Frenchman announced his resignation after last year’s Champions League final and had recently suffered defeats by Ajax Amsterdam and Barcelona which had effectively ended their season.
“We are all very excited, we have renewed hope after that tragic week,” said Real defender Alvaro Odriozola.
“We have to look to the future, end this season with honour and try to win the remaining 10 games. We have to stay focused on competing and not thinking about who is playing or who isn’t, instead we all need to give 100 percent.”
Zidane had said on his return that changes were needed at Madrid after haphazard results had seen Julen Lopetegui sacked in October, his replacement Solari dismissed and the team left with no trophies left to fight for this season.
The Frenchman’s line-up showed he was serious as he brought back goalkeeper Keylor Navas, as well as Isco and Marcelo into the side, players who had all started in the Champions League final win over Liverpool but had been cast aside by Solari.
“No-one can erase what these players have done,” Zidane said.
“The players who played today did very well and I’ll continue to count on them but I have a squad of 25 players and will count on all of them.”
Navas was called into action early to palm away a goal-bound header from Maxi Gomez, but Madrid had the better of the first half and nearly took the lead when Bale smashed against the bar, while Sergio Ramos and Toni Kroos also came close.
Madrid looked to have gone ahead when Modric’s shot bounced into the net, but the goal was ruled out after a pitchside Video Assistant Referee (VAR) review ruled Raphael Varane had been offside and obstructing Celta goalkeeper Ruben Blanco’s view.
Isco soon brought a smile back to the Bernabeu faithful by guiding Benzema’s cross into the net after an impressive run by Marco Asensio.
Much has been said about whether Zidane’s return could mean the end of Bale’s career in Madrid, but the Wales forward capped a strong display by sealing victory, making it three goals in his last two games under Zidane and adding to the celebratory mood.
Reporting by Richard Martin,; Editing by Ian Chadband and Ed Osmond