Zinedine Zidane got his tenure as Real Madrid manager off to a winning start as Los Blancos dominated Deportivo La Coruna in Saturday's La Liga encounter, winning 5-0. Gareth Bale stole the show with a hat-trick and a fantastic all-round performance.
Karim Benzema's opener was a little controversial, but from that point onward, Real rolled past Deportivo, and Bale was the driving force behind just about everything the side did. The Santiago Bernabeu watched as Zidane's troops played some of their best football of the season, marking a promising start for the French manager.
Benzema added a late goal to make it 5-0—a result that was perhaps a little harsh on Deportivo, who certainly didn't deserve to lose by such a score.
As shared by Bleacher Report UK, James Rodriguez didn't make Zidane's first-ever Real Madrid starting XI, as the manager opted to start Isco:
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
Zidane’s first Real starting XI: Navas; Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric, Isco; Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema. https://t.co/ULZm4gyYkK2016-1-9 18:33:19
Former manager Rafa Benitez was often jeered by the Bernabeu crowd for his defensive tactics, and Zidane seemed determined to show his intention of playing attacking football early. From the opening whistle, Real's full-backs pushed up the pitch, penetrating deep into Deportivo's half.
Cristiano Ronaldo had the chance to open the score after just five minutes with a lovely ball over the top, but the Ballon d'Or finalist couldn't get enough on the ball to direct it past Deportivo goalkeeper German Dario Lux.
Ronaldo troubled Lux again minutes later with a powerful drive, before goalkeeper Keylor Navas was called into action, making a a fine stop to deny a sure goal after Lucas Perez was isolated in front of the stopper.
Los Blancos took the lead in controversial fashion, with Benzema diverting a shot from Sergio Ramos into goal. Bale stood in an offside position when the ball was played, however, and clearly obstructed Lux's vision.
The Daily Telegraph's Paul Hayward also spotted the Welshman:
Paul Hayward @_PaulHayward
Zidane's first piece of luck with refs. Bale blocking Deportivo keeper's view in an offside position when Benzema back-heeled it in. 1-0.2016-1-9 19:49:10
Real continued to push forward and dominate possession, but while the visitors saw little of the ball, they remained dangerous. Lucas nearly got his head on an inviting cross from Federico Nicolas Cartabia, who was able to take advantage of Real's full-backs playing so high up the pitch on multiple occasions.
But before long, the hosts doubled the lead, and once again, Benzema played a key role. A fantastic team move saw the Frenchman free up Dani Carvajal on the wing, and the full-back played a perfect pass into the path of Bale, who doubled Real's lead.
Per Karl Matchett of Bleacher Report, Benzema was waiting to score himself in case Bale missed:
Karl Matchett @karlmatchett
Benzema great again. Plays a fine pass wide and makes his move central - if Bale doesn’t score, Benz does. 2-0.2016-1-9 19:54:03
Ronaldo again tried his luck after cutting inside and sent a shot just wide of the post, before Marcelo failed to spot Benzema waiting in front of goal and played a ball to the Portugal international instead.
Marcelo seemed to struggle with his crosses and made a similar mistake minutes later. A slight chip would have handed Bale a sure goal, but the Brazilian again tried to force the ball to Ronaldo to no avail.
The action remained fast and furious, as Ronaldo hit the frame of the goal just moments after Lucas just missed the target, with Navas seemingly beaten. After 45 minutes of fantastic football, the score was still 2-0, although both teams could easily have scored a couple of extra goals.
Per Phil Kitromilides of Real Madrid TV, Zidane's effect on the players was evident:
Phil Kitromilides @PhilKitro
Zidane said he wanted the players to enjoy themselves. And they really are!2016-1-9 20:07:02
The fun continued in the second half, as Bale added a second goal to his tally just minutes after the break. He delayed his run well, allowing Ronaldo to pick up the Wales international for an easy finish.
The home fans were more than satisfied with what they were seeing and made that very clear, as Zidane ordered his troops to slow the pace a bit and control the match. The two full-backs still darted forward with regularity, and it looks like this could become a defining aspect of Zidane's squad.
Deportivo mustered a handful of chances, although they were of far less quality than those in the first half. Meanwhile, Real still countered, and after 63 minutes, one of those quick attacks led to a corner kick, which gave Bale the opportunity to complete his hat-trick.
Per Sport's Rik Sharma, Bale brings a great aerial element to the side:
Rik Sharma @riksharma_
Half of Bale's goal this season in La Liga have been headers - 6 out of 122016-1-9 20:52:51
Infostrada Sports added this statistic:
Gracenote Live @GracenoteLive
Gareth Bale becomes the first payer with two La Liga hat-tricks in 2015/16. #RMLiga2016-1-9 20:53:17
Bale endeared himself even more to the Bernabeu faithful minutes later, as the forward made a run all the way back into his own box before denying Luis Alberto a sure goal with a last-miute slide.
Goal's Ben Hayward was impressed:
Ben Hayward @bghayward
Bale back in the box to make a last-ditch sliding tackle just now and prevent what looked like being a goal. Quite a night he's having.2016-1-9 20:56:28
The Welshman was taken off after 74 minutes and received a standing ovation as Jese Rodriguez made his way onto the pitch.
Deportivo came close to scoring again with 10 minutes left on the clock, but Alberto's thundering shot was parried by Navas, who worked hard to preserve his clean sheet. On the other side of the pitch, Ronaldo almost got a deserved goal, but his shot went wide by inches.
With almost the last touch of the match, Benzema added a second goal to his tally, cleaning up after Ronaldo, who failed to control the ball on the counter.
Fans shouldn't look too much into the result of this match, as 90 minutes of football isn't enough to judge a manager. But there are plenty of reasons to be excited regardless. Los Blancos played vibrant, attacking football and seemed to be enjoying themselves out there—something that was missing while Benitez was still in charge.
It doesn't hurt that the fixture list looks relatively easy until the UEFA Champions League clash with Roma, which should allow Zidane the time to get a couple of wins under his belt and build confidence.
As shared by ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan, Zidane remained humble in his first post-match press conference, highlighting the need for improvement:
Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan
Zidane: “Always when you win a game you are happy. And I am happy, with the game we played. Truth is I am happy- that’s it.”2016-1-9 21:42:58
Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan
Zidane: "We will improve, we must improve in many things, and we will do that. We have time for that."2016-1-9 21:47:20
Reporters pressed the new manager for any insights regarding the club's future, but Zidane refused to look too far ahead or even talk in much detail about individual players. Per Corrigan, he briefly touched on Ronaldo and Bale, but all in all, he focused far more on the collective performances.