Zi­dane un­flus­tered as Madrid crum­ble

The Nation - - SPORT -

REAL MADRID coach Zinedine Zi­dane in­sists his Euro­pean cham­pi­ons can still re­tain their La Liga ti­tle de­spite their shock 2-1 de­feat at Girona yes­ter­day (Thai­land time) on their much-an­tic­i­pated re­turn to Cat­alo­nia.

Madrid hadn’t set foot in the deeply di­vided re­gion over Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence since a vi­o­lence­marred ref­er­en­dum on Oc­to­ber 1 sparked a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis across Spain.

Just days af­ter the cen­tral Span­ish gov­ern­ment im­posed home rule on Cat­alo­nia, Madrid were ex­pected to en­ter the eye of the storm in the pro-in­de­pen­dence hot­bed of Girona, just over 100 kilo­me­tres north­east of Barcelona.

How­ever, there were only a smat­ter­ing of chants in favour of in­de­pen­dence amid a largely party at­mos­phere with Span­ish flags also waved by the Madrid sup­port.

The lo­cals’ cel­e­bra­tions were sparked by events on the field as Girona beat Zi­dane’s all-con­quer­ing su­per­stars in the first ever meet­ing be­tween the sides.

“We said be­fore the game that we knew it was go­ing to be dif­fi­cult match,” said Zi­dane.

“I was not sur­prised by the tempo of the op­po­nent.”

Madrid now face a huge task to reel in Barcelona at the top of the ta­ble as they trail the La Liga lead­ers by eight points af­ter just 10 games.

How­ever, Zi­dane de­fended his play­ers’ at­ti­tude as they strug­gled to cope with Girona’s pace and power through­out the 90 min­utes.

“I am not wor­ried about a lack of in­ten­sity or de­sire. Things aren’t go­ing well for us in La Liga, but we will work hard as we have been do­ing un­til now. We have lost three points to­day which wasn’t what we ex­pected af­ter four wins, but the play­ers’ de­sire for the league re­mains in­tact.”

Napoli con­tinue ti­tle push

Madrid went in front af­ter just 12 min­utes when Isco slot­ted home a loose ball af­ter Cris­tiano Ron­aldo’s ini­tial ef­fort had been par­ried by Girona goal­keeper Bono.

Girona turned the game around in four sec­ond-half min­utes through Christhian Stu­ani and Portu just be­fore the hour mark.

Ron­aldo’s frus­tra­tion could be com­pounded af­ter TV re­plays showed him scrap­ing his hand across Girona mid­fielder Pere Pons’s face, prompt­ing calls for him to be banned.

Napoli re­claimed top spot in Italy and main­tained their un­beaten record with a 3-1 win at Sas­suolo to re­tain their three-point cush­ion on Ju­ven­tus and Lazio.

The serie A lead­ers re­sponded in fine style to Ju­ven­tus’s 2-0 win at AC Mi­lan and put them­selves in great heart ahead of host­ing Manch­ester City in the Cham­pi­ons League to­mor­row night.

Lazio rose to third, be­hind Juve only on goal dif­fer­ence, with a 5-1 win ear­lier at Ben­evento, who slumped to their 11th straight de­feat.

No other Euro­pean club in a ma­jor league have had a worse start to the sea­son – apart from Manch­ester United, who were rel­e­gated af­ter the 1930-1931 sea­son af­ter los­ing their first 12 matches.

Lyon cap­tain Na­bil Fekir scored a fine first-half dou­ble to lift his side to third in Ligue 1 af­ter a 2-0 de­feat of rock-bot­tom Metz.

The 24-year-old France in­ter­na­tional has scored nine goals al­ready this sea­son, spear­head­ing the Lyon at­tack af­ter the depar­ture to Ar­se­nal of pro­lific striker Alexan­dre La­cazette.

Sun­day’s win leaves Lyon on 22 points from 11 games, just three points be­hind de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Monaco and seven adrift of lead­ers Paris Saint-Ger­main.

Metz were the first Ligue 1 club to fire their coach as Philippe Hin­schberger made way for Fred­eric Hantz this week, but the club ap­pear doomed with just three points from 11 games.

Mar­seille piled the pres­sure on their for­mer coach Marcelo Bielsa, mean­while, af­ter a 1-0 win at Lille on Sun­day left the Ar­gen­tinian’s side stuck in the Ligue 1 rel­e­ga­tion zone.

In Ger­many, there were calls for Werder Bre­men coach Alexan­der Nouri to be sacked af­ter a 3-0 home drub­bing against Augs­burg left them win­less in their first ten Bun­desliga games.

Bre­men re­main sec­ond from bot­tom with just five points af­ter Aus­tria in­ter­na­tional Michael Gre­goritsch net­ted twice for Augs­burg.

Later, Turkey de­fender Caglar Soyuncu was sent off in con­tro­ver­sial fash­ion just 12 min­utes into Freiburg’s 3-0 de­feat at Stuttgart.

Soyuncu, who was the last de­fender, ac­ci­den­tally han­dled the ball while jostling with Stuttgart striker Daniel Ginczek and was given a straight red card.

The de­feat leaves Freiburg just above the rel­e­ga­tion places, while Stuttgart are 12th.

Girona’s Alex Granell goes air­borne af­ter the goal by Cristhian Stu­ani, right.

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