Zidane unflustered as Madrid crumble
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.