Sports

Magic Messi downs Madrid as Zidane says Real will fight on

Author: DANIEL FOUNTAINSun, 2017-12-24 02:26ID: 1514060910920266600Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has accepted responsibility for a crushing 3-0 El Clasico defeat inspired by the mercurial Lionel Messi on Saturday that left the European champions 14 points adrift of Barcelona at the top of La Liga.
With the Argentine striker orchestrating from the front, Barcelona produced a scintillating second half performance, scoring three unanswered goals on their way to victory over their bitter rivals at the Santiago Bernabeu.
However, Zidane insisted Madrid will come back stronger in the new year after La Liga’s winter break and refused to concede the league to Barca.
“We are down because it is a defeat that hurts,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane. “Madrid never give up, whatever happens. It is a difficult moment because we’ve lost by three goals. I could say we don’t deserve it, but that is football.”
Zidane took the surprise decision to start Mateo Kovacic for the first time in La Liga this season to try negate the threat of Lionel Messi as the Croatian had so successfully when Real thrashed Barca 5-1 in the Spanish Super Cup on aggregate in August. But it was to no avail as Messi dominated.
After Madrid missed a host of first-half chances, Kovacic was powerless to stop Messi wrestling control of the game as the Argentine netted from the penalty spot after Luis Suarez’s opener and then teed up Aleix Vidal for Barca’s third in stoppage time on a miserable day for the champions.
“That is football but it won’t change how I think or what I do,” added Zidane. “I am the coach and I will continue like this as long as I am here.”
A 3-0 defeat is also Zidane’s heaviest since he took charge of Real nearly two years ago. However, there didn’t appear to be such a margin between the sides in the first 45 minutes as Madrid dominated. Cristiano Ronaldo miskicked with the goal at his mercy after just 10 minutes and Karim Benzema hit the post just before half-time.
Not only does the victory take Barcelona 14 points clear of Real, but it was also the first time in La Liga history that the Catalans had won three El Clasico matches in a row at the Bernabeu. Victory also extends Barca’s unbeaten run to 25 games in all competitions and sees them go nine points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid, while effectively knocking Real out of the title race.
But Valverde refused to accept he had tactically outfoxed Zidane and insisted Barca can’t celebrate taking back the title from Madrid just yet with 21 league games still to come.
“Our intention is that no one beats us,” he added when quizzed whether his side, on a 25-game unbeaten run, are capable of dropping enough points to led Madrid back into the title race.
“They pressed us very high and it forced us to play long,” he added. “We couldn’t play as we are used to. It was an open game with no side in command, but in the second-half we managed to impose our control on the game.”
And while Messi once again shone, Valverde reserved special praise for Thomas Vermaelen who contributed to another clean sheet in the absence of the injured Samuel Umtiti.
Vermaelen has been much-criticized since joining from Arsenal in 2014 for poor performances and unfortunate history of injuries. “People ask me a lot about Vermaelen as if it seems something bad is going to happen. What I see is a player who trains well, plays, well, is strong and can play with the ball.
“At times in Barcelona we want to put on the bandage before there is a wound.”
Madrid do still have a game in hand over Barca to marginally reduce the gap at the top, but it is now likely they will concentrate on becoming the first side to win three consecutive Champions League titles in more than 40 years when the competition returns in 2018.
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