Zidane inspires Real Madrid to derby victory over Atletico
Madrid, Spain - Zinedine Zidane’s double substitution at half-time transformed the Madrid derby on Saturday as Real Madrid edged past Atletico 1-0 to move six points clear at the top of La Liga.
Karim Benzema scored the winner at the Santiago Bernabeu after Zidane’s decisive intervention turned a contest that Atletico had dominated into another comfortable Real Madrid victory.
Vinicius Junior, one of the substitutes, was a key to the goal.
Second-place Barcelona can cut the gap back to three points by beating Levante at home on Sunday but Atletico now trail the leaders by 13 points.
While Diego Simeone’s side were excellent in the first half, they were yet again blunt in front of goal and then failed to respond when their opponents found a different gear.
This is Atletico’s fifth game without a win. The worry is that on this form, they should worry not about the title race but about missing out on Champions League qualification.
It is a far cry from pre-season when Atletico thrashed Real 73 and many were tipping them as serious challengers.
Zidane was under pressure then, but his team are on a relentless run, now 21 games unbeaten, the latest due in large part to his changes.
The decision to ditch a failing system and revert to 4-3-3, with Vinicuis Junior and Lucas Vazquez coming on for Isco and Toni Kroos, was both brave and effective.
Simeone’s side were significantly better in the first half and should have taken one of a handful of decent chances as Vitolo hit Thibaut Courtois, Saul Niguez flashed wide and Angel Correa poked past the post after going through one-on-one, even if he probably would have been called offside.
Real Madrid’s cluster of central midfielders looked unsure of their 4-3-2-1 shape. Fede Valverde looked particularly uncomfortable as he spent much of the first half as a right winger. Luka Modric was virtually anonymous in his more advanced role.
Zidane’s double change was a recognition of Atletico's superiority as he reverted to the more familiar 4-3-3 with Modric deeper in midfield.
The balance shifted immediately. Real dominated the start of the second half.
In the 56th minute, Vinicius cut in from the left and slipped in the overlapping Ferland Mendy, whose cross to the back post gave Benzema a simple finish.
Atletico had been weakened shortly before when Alvaro Morata, perhaps the best player on the pitch in the first 45 minutes, went off with an injury. He was replaced by Thomas Lemar, whom Simeone expected to be sold in the January transfer window. Valverde enjoyed a spontaneous standing ovation for a burst forward, an appreciation too perhaps for his brilliant breakthrough season. Another roar of approval greeted the final whistle.
Granada 2 Espanyol 1
GERMAN LEAGUE Haaland double takes Dortmund home
Berlin, Germany - Erling Braut Haaland made it seven goals in three games for Borussia Dortmund after scoring a double in Saturday’s 5-0 Bundesliga thrashing of Union Berlin while Bayern Munich went top of the table.
The 19 year old Haaland, who had netted five times in his first two appearances since signing from Salzburg, scored either side of half-time at Signal Iduna Park after being handed his first Dortmund start by coach Lucien Favre.
Haaland’s tally is the most by any Bundesliga player in their first three league matches.
Dortmund moved to third in the table, three points behind leaders Bayern Munich, who beat Mainz 3-1.
Previous leaders RB Leipzig can regain top spot if they later beat fourth-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach at home.
In Mainz, goals by Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Mueller and Thiago Alcantara sealed Bayern’s away win to go two points clear.
Bayern wasted no time taking the lead despite the sodden conditions as the Bundesliga's top scorer Lewandowski netted his 22nd league goal after just eight minutes to herald a powerful first-half by the defending champions.
Mueller hit their second on 14 minutes, finishing a move he started after Lewandowski and Leon Goretzka shredded Mainz’s defence.
Alcantara made it 3-0 on 30 minutes by beating three defenders with superb footwork before smashing his shot past Mainz goalkeeper Robin Zentner.
Goretzka played an unlucky part in the Mainz goal when a header by defender Jeremiah St Juste cannoned off the back of his head and beat Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer on the stroke of half-time.
Fifth-placed Leverkusen lost ground in the table when they went down 2-1 at Hoffenheim thanks to goals from striker Andrej Kramaric and Danish defender Robert Skov.
A Timothy Chandler header just before the whistle rescued a point for Eintracht Frankfurt in their 1-1 draw at Fortuna Duesseldorf, who moved off the bottom.
It was Fortuna’s first game under new coach Uwe Roesler, who took charge on Wednesday in a bid to avoid relegation.
Augsburg went ninth after they came from behind to beat Werder Bremen 2-1 with goals by Florian Niederlechner and Ruben Vargas after their defender Tin Jedvaj had scored an early own goal.