MADRID (Reuters) – Zinedine Zidane has been questioned for his failure to repeat Real Madrid’s magnificent feats of last season but the Frenchman showed he still knows how to manage a big game as his side beat Paris St Germain 3-1 on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Zidane was expected to match PSG’s 4-3-3 formation and field Gareth Bale in the last 16-first leg at the Bernabeu but instead opted to play Isco to give his team numerical superiority in midfield.
“We wanted to control the game and we did that,” Zidane told reporters.
“We did that by playing four in middle against their midfield three, Isco had a great game and gave us greater possession and the game went as we had envisaged it.”
Real made the stronger start although they fell behind to Adrien Rabiot’s strike, which Cristiano Ronaldo cancelled out from the penalty spot.
Zidane looked to his bench to win the game and made ultra-attacking changes by throwing on Bale and wingers Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez.
The injection of fresh legs startled the tired visitors and after Bale came close to scoring from the right-hand side Asensio made two darting runs down the left which led to Ronaldo putting Real ahead in the 83rd minute and Marcelo’s late strike tightened their grip on the tie.
“Despite all the speculation, we showed that you can never presume Real Madrid are dead,” Real captain Sergio Ramos said.
After sweeping to the Liga and Champions League double last season and becoming the first coach to successfully defend the trophy since the tournament changed format, Zidane has seen his reputation as a coach nose-dive as his side fell way behind Barcelona in the Liga and were eliminated from the King’s Cup.
Their hopes for the season entirely rested on the blockbuster tie against PSG and with their supporters fully behind them in a competition they have won an astounding 12 times, Real delivered.
“The Champions League turns us on,” said Zidane. “This club has won this competition 12 times for a reason.”
Marca newspaper hailed Zidane’s strategy.
“Zidane struck back and turned the tie on its head with a statement of authority from the tactical board,” the paper said.
“It was a masterstroke which gave his team wings and came off perfectly.”
The late goals gave Real a big advantage going into the second leg in Paris on March 6 and Ramos called on his side to produce a repeat performance to continue their quest for a third consecutive Champions League triumph.
“We were effective in a way we haven’t been for much of the season and we played a complete game,” he said.
“This is the example we need to follow in the second leg, we need to play as serious as we did and keep showing that desire to keep defending this title.”