Yet again, Zidane shows his worth on Real Madrid's bench
MADRID (AP) — With the tactical touch of a genius, Zinedine Zidane came through again for Real Madrid.
The Madrid coach brought on Marco Asensio at halftime against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals, a move that proved to be difference. Asensio scored the winning goal in the 2-1 victory, giving Madrid the lead and two away goals ahead of Tuesday's second leg at home.
"The team improved. It wasn't only the goal that helped," said Zidane, who brought Asensio on to replace the injured Isco.
Zidane had already surprisingly left Karim Benzema out of the lineup and started with Lucas Vazquez, who added speed to the attack and capped his night by setting up Asensio's second-half winner in a counterattack.
"The idea was to have Lucas playing ahead and Isco between the lines, but Asensio worked really hard and did well defensively," Zidane said.
There have been other good examples of good decision-making by Zidane since he was hired in the middle of the 2015-16 season despite widespread doubts about his capacity as a coach. By that time, he had been an assistant to Carlo Ancelotti at Madrid and had only coached the club's "B'' team.
After winning back-to-back Champions League titles, Zidane is really starting to prove himself as a tactician in this year's competition. In the last 16 against Paris Saint-Germain, he mixed the team's formation for the first leg and then added Vazquez and Asensio to turn the match around in the final minutes.
The duo helped Madrid score two late goals and take a 3-1 victory that it easily protected in the second leg in Paris.
Since arriving as coach, Zidane has not been afraid to bench stars such as Benzema and Gareth Bale and use the younger players in the squad, including Asensio, Vazquez and Isco.
This season, Zidane also succeeded in keeping Cristiano Ronaldo in top form by resting the Portugal forward like never before in his career. He convinced Ronaldo to save himself for the most important matches and it has paid off as the forward has thrived in the final stretch of the season.
Calm-mannered as he was throughout most of his playing career, Zidane put Madrid back on track after replacing Rafa Benitez in January 2016, finishing that season with the Champions League title and becoming one of the few men to win the competition both as a player and as a coach.
Last season, Zidane impressed with his good management of the squad, successfully rotating his starters and keeping them fresh as the club won the Spanish league — for the first time since 2012 — and the Champions League. He also helped the club win the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup, and was named FIFA coach of the year.
This season started with Zidane leading Madrid to pair of victories over Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup final, but the team eventually struggled with a series of poor results that hurt the team's chances of winning the Spanish league and led to an embarrassing elimination against Leganes in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.
The team's slump prompted a wave of criticism against the coach, including by some who called for his replacement, but Zidane maintained a non-confrontational approach throughout, managing the pressure from both outside and inside the club and keeping the focus on his squad.
He weathered the storm and entered the most important part of the season with his team playing well and in contention for the title in the continent's top club competition.
In the end, Zidane has proven that from the bench he can see the game just as well as he could from the field.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni