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A LOOK AT LA LIGA

An unlikely resurgence

Real Madrid players toss Zidane to celebrate their Spanish league title.
Real Madrid players toss Zidane to celebrate their Spanish league title. / AFP
  • Real Madrid face Manchester City as the underdogs, but Zidane is orchestrating their revival with genius

When Zinedine Zidane decided he'd get the band back together again and give them one final farewell tour, very few people thought it would end well.

A year ago this week, Real Madrid were a dysfunctional mess as they lost 3-7 to capital rivals Atlético at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

The harmony was gone, as was the lead singer Cristiano Ronaldo. The band was hopelessly out of tune.

A year later and it's like Queen or Genesis. It could be argued that they were never the same without Freddie Mercury or Peter Gabriel, yet Adam Lambert and Phil Collins were able to carry it off.

There's a theory out there that Zidane is a lucky manager.

He's a genius manager, a micro manager. The first task was to stop the squabbling between his captain and his president. Once he'd negotiated a truce between Sergio Ramos and Florentino Pérez, he needed to address the troublesome issue of Gareth Bale.

It appeared that the Welshman would be shipped off to China, but the deal fell through; Zidane was left with a dilemma: what to do with a footballer who is paid 350,000 euros per week?

He decided that although he would be paid the astronomical amount, he wouldn't have to earn it. Bale was largely left in the shadows, twiddling his thumbs or anything else he could get his hands on.

There had to be a quick assessment of the new players that had been presented to him. He realised that Luca Jović wasn't as good as the player in the promotional videos and placed no trust in him. Hazard arrived as a heavyweight, literally a heavyweight - he was noticeably out of condition. Fitness and injuries would mean that he couldn't be relied upon.

So, Zidane leant heavily on the old boys. From the 14 players who participated in the 2018 Champions League final, only Ronaldo and goalkeeper Neylor Navas had departed.

Instead of Ronaldo grabbing the mic, all the members got a chance to step forwards. Karim Benzema basking in the limelight after years of acting as the backing singer. Luka Modrić was given the stage to perform several solos.

The league was clinched with an amazing run of 10 successive wins, although Barcelona's dismissal of Ernesto Valverde when they were table-toppers in January did help.

The odds are stacked against Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 match against Manchester City; they trail by a goal from the first leg when Ramos was sent off.

It's just as Zidane likes it; his team are underdogs, just as they were the season he took over, the next year when he won it for a second time and this season when it looked like he'd misjudged the comeback.

Remember he's won the elite competition every season he's managed in it. The focus will be on Pep Guardiola, with the press fawning over the Manchester City manager.

Guardiola is rightly lauded for his achievements which include two Champions League titles. Zidane could set a record by winning it for a fourth time. The revival continues.