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Zidane much more than smiling motivator as Real close on title

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Zinedine Zidane risked tarnishing his record by diving back into the Real Madrid job 10 months after resigning, but in taking the team to the brink of winning the La Liga title in his first full season back, he has proved the perfect man for the job.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – La Liga Santander – Real Madrid v Getafe – Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, Madrid, Spain – July 2, 2020 Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

16 Jul 2020 02:00AM

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MADRID: Zinedine Zidane risked tarnishing his record by diving back into the Real Madrid job 10 months after resigning, but in taking the team to the brink of winning the La Liga title in his first full season back, he has proved the perfect man for the job.

If his side beat Villarreal at home on Thursday it would be their 10th consecutive win since the coronavirus stoppage and would seal the club's 34th league title, their first since 2017 when Zidane was also in charge.

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In spite of a remarkable record of nine trophies in his first spell with Real including three consecutive Champions League crowns, Zidane was still often dismissed by some as little more than a smiling motivator.

He has been referred to in the Spanish media as an "alineador", doing little more than picking a starting 11 from one of the world's most talented squads.

His success has also often been put down to being blessed with good fortune.

But this season Zidane has proved to be a superb manager in every sense.

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Key to the team's success has been the bolstering of the defence, which let in 46 goals last season under Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari, before Zidane was persuaded to make a shock comeback in March 2019.

Real continued to look shaky in defence as they shipped six goals in their first four matches this season, but they responded by keeping 10 clean sheets in their next 10.

Their defence has got even better since the coronavirus stoppage, conceding three goals in nine matches and keeping five consecutive clean sheets for the first time since 2008.

They now boast the best defensive record in Europe.

"Even as someone who prefers to play exciting attacking football, the defensive aspect is the most important thing right now," Zidane said.

"And we have a big advantage in that we have a great defence but above all, every player is committed to what we are doing. Defending is not about four or five players, it's down to everyone."

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

The coach has also overcome a series of obstacles.

He was in deep trouble when his side were thrashed 3-0 by Paris St Germain in September then beRead More – Source