Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said he felt his team had turned a corner and were now hitting their best form — speaking after Wednesday evening’s 3-1 La Liga victory at neighbours Leganes — with Sergio Ramos playing down a penalty controversy with Gareth Bale.
The suburban side took a shock lead after just six minutes when defender Unai Bustinza bravely forced the ball home with his head after a scramble following a corner. But Madrid quickly hit back with winger Lucas Vazquez slotting home the equaliser and Casemiro making it 2-1 by finishing off a lovely one-touch move that included Karim Benzema and Lucas.
Leganes pushed in the second half as Madrid’s attacking spark faded, goalkeeper Kiko Casilla saved from Claudio Beauvue, and Mateo Kovacic got away with a possible penalty on Nabil El Zhar.
Zidane’s side then wrapped up the points late on when captain Sergio Ramos won a debate with substitute Bale and converted from the spot after Kovacic was upended.
With Cristiano Ronaldo rested for the game, Bale had wanted to take his side’s late penalty, but was overruled by Ramos, who told BeIn Sports after the final whistle that there had been no problem between the pair.
“Whenever Cris is not playing, if it is not Gareth it is me,” the Madrid captain said. “We alternate. There is no rivalry.”
And after a fourth-successive victory for his side, Zidane told the postgame news conference at Butarque that his team had come out of their poor form from earlier in the season.
“We have had our moment when things were a bit difficult,” Zidane said. “But now things are going well for us. As we are doing things well, we are confident, playing well, and we want more.
“Each of the players are giving more on the pitch, and that in the end is what makes you achieve very good games. What we want now is to keep going as we are. We have had difficult moments, but now we want to take advantage of this moment to keep going.”
The victory in the a game rescheduled due to December’s Club World Cup saw Madrid climb past Valencia into third place in the table, seven points behind second placed Atletico Madrid and 14 adrift of runaway leaders Barcelona.
“We always look up, that is fundamental for us to keep this good run going,” he said. “I never look behind us. Now we are back to third, and our idea is to keep going and recover second, and like that, until the end.”
Although Madrid have not kept a clean sheet in La Liga since early December, Zidane said he was not concerned as the team had shown they could react to setbacks within games.
“I would sign for the opponent to score one, and we score three or four,” he said. “Of course to concede after five minutes is a lack of concentration, but I am not worried. I would be worried if there was no reaction, but we equalised within 10 minutes and then controlled the game very well.”
Madrid’s recent upswing in form has coincided with previous reserves Lucas and Marco Asensio starting more regularly, and Zidane revealed that the Galician had actually been a doubt for the game due to illness earlier in the day.
“For me they have always been important,” he said. “Maybe they played less before, but I am happy for them. Lucas deserved his goal, he fought hard today, having been a bit ill before the game. Marco Asensio also played a good game, Kovacic too was phenomenal.”
Bale has now been a substitute for three of Madrid’s last four games, including last week’s 3-1 Champions League victory over Paris Saint-Germain. Zidane said there was no one reason why the €101 million signing from Tottenham was featuring less at the moment.
“It is a bit of everything, but I am happy with Gareth,” he said. “We must go bit by bit with him, so that he finds his best level. We will see the games coming up now, how we manage it. We are in a good moment, and I will count on all of them.”