Zinedine Zidane

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Zidane gets it right as Real builds 3-1 lead over PSG

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The UEFA Champions League is not only the pride of Real Madrid, but the only bit of silverware still available to Zinedine Zidane’s men.

[ RECAP: Real Madrid 1-3 PSG ]

That put plenty of pressure on the club and its boss ahead of Wednesday’s first leg of the Round of 16 at the Bernabeu, with Paris Saint-Germain coming into town with an arsenal capable of submarining any team’s trophy hopes.

And the crowd was booing and whistling once Adrien Rabiot scored an away goal to put PSG ahead after 33 minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo converted a penalty to put it level into halftime, but doubt remained for the victors of three UCL titles in four seasons.

Certainly there was a bit of good fortune in the win — Sergio Ramos blocked a goal-bound shot with his arm and it went uncalled — but by the time a pair of Marco Asensio assists had put Real up 3-1, it was clear that Zidane and his men had favor back on their side.

“This club has 12 European Cups and that means a lot,” Zidane said. “This is such a prominent competition and we want to prove time and time again that this club values this. We showed it for the full 90 minutes. We coped well, both with and without the ball. We defended well, with aggression and rhythm.

“The Champions League really has a place in this club’s heart. We played 90 stunning minutes against a top rival. That’s all that we’re concerned with. We have to turn our attentions now to the return leg, that will be entirely different.”

It won’t be easy. Tactically, too, it will be interesting to see what Zidane opts to do at the Parc des Princes.  Zidane correctly urged his players to come flying out of the gates with hard pressing on Wednesday, and it would take bravery to proffer a similar plan in the second leg.

Just ask one of his best defenders.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

“Defensively we need help,” said Ramos. “We suffered because they have fast attacking players, but we answered well. We must always respect our rivals. We took an important step forward but the tie is wide open, so we need to keep plugging away.”

Zidane got it right tonight, though it’s funny to think of his being fired had the Ramos handball gone in PSG’s favor and two away goals somehow dooming Real. Just like it’s silly that Unai Emery may lose his job based on a two-goal deficit that came moments after that penalty shout went unheeded.

Poch reiterates “massive commitment” to Spurs amid Madrid rumors

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With Zinedine Zidane’s position as Real Madrid manager coming under additional scrutiny with each passing failure — Los Blancos currently sit 19 points(!!!) behind La Liga leaders Barcelona and were bounced from the Copa del Rey quarterfinals round by Leganes on Wednesday — Mauricio Pochettino‘s next contract gets richer and richer.

[ MORE: Friday’s transfer rumor roundup | Thursday | Tuesday ]

After all, it’s Pochettino who’s been frequently linked with a move to Madrid should Zidane be relieved of his duties between present day and August. It’s a win-win scenario for the Tottenham Hotspur boss, whose current contract runs until the summer of 2021, as he’ll either move to the Spanish capital for a massive raise or sign a new contract — for, you guessed it, a massive raise — to remain in north London.

Asked about the rumors this week, Pochettino was quick to reiterate his “massive commitment” to his current employers, while also stopping well short of ruling out a move to Madrid at a yet-to-be-determined point in his career — quotes from the BBC:

“My commitment is massive [to Tottenham]. I am working like I am going to be here forever. But in the end you never know what is going to happen in football.”

“Tomorrow, chairman Daniel Levy could have a bad night and say, ‘Oh, I am going to sack Mauricio,’ then I look stupid saying I am not going to work in one place or another or another.”

Pochettino did, however, take a much harder-line stance on three other clubs in particular. As a supporter of either Spurs, Espanyol or Newell’s Old Boys, it must be impossible to not love Pochettino for his passion, fierce loyalty and intensity:

“I am so clear: I am never going to be manager of Barcelona or Arsenal because I am so identified with Tottenham and Espanyol. I grew up in Newell’s Old Boys and will never manage Rosario Central.

“That is my decision because I prefer to work on my farm in Argentina than in some places.”

Various reports from a handful of outlets across Europe have stated that Levy is willing to offer Pochettino a new contract in order to ensure he’s the club’s manager for the opening of the new stadium next fall. A couple hundred million dollars to reinforce and retain a solid, young squad over the course of the next four transfer windows probably wouldn’t hurt, either.

Zidane: Copa Del Rey loss his lowest point, focus on Champions League

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Zinedine Zidane accepted responsibility after Real Madrid was dumped out of the Copa del Rey at the quarterfinals thanks to a pair of away goals from Leganes in what was a 2-2 aggregate draw.

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“I’m not angry with my players, I’m angry with myself,” Zidane said. “They give it their all, run hard… I am responsible. They have to accept a degree of the responsibility because they’re the ones out on the pitch. We’re all to blame, but I’m the one who’s responsible”.

He admitted the loss was his lowest point at the club, though it’s been a managerial run of greatness. Since taking over in 2016, Real has won two UEFA Champions League crowns, two FIFA Club World Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, and a La Liga crown.

But Real is fourth in La Liga this season, 19 points back of Barcelona with one match-in-hand, and now will not have a chance to end Barca’s run of three-straight Copa del Reys.

Zidane admits he must turn his focus to a third-straight Champions League crown, a feat no one’s done since Bayern Munich in 1976. It would also be a fourth title in five seasons, a measure which would only be topped by the five-straight it won to start the competition.

“Of course. We’ve lost one competition and we’re a long way off in LaLiga. Our objectives aren’t what we’d planned for at the start of the season. All we can do now is think about the remaining games, starting with Saturday, and prepare well for February 14.”

That’s when Real opens the Round of 16 with a visit from old foe Neymar and his new club, Paris Saint-Germain.

Bale set to return to Madrid’s squad after injury layoff

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MADRID (AP) Gareth Bale is expected to make his return to Real Madrid’s lineup in a Copa del Rey match this week after being sidelined for more than two months because of injuries.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says the Wales forward has recovered from a left leg muscle injury and will play at least part of Tuesday’s match against Fuenlabrada at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

[ MORE: Lukaku dodges ban ]

Madrid won the first leg 2-0 against the third-division club.

Bale hasn’t played since Madrid’s 3-1 win at Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Sept. 26. Plagued by injuries this season, his latest ailment came in practice while trying to recover from another muscle injury.

Zidane anxiously awaiting goals from Ronaldo

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MADRID (AP) For Zinedine Zidane, the Madrid derby on Saturday is just what Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema need to break their scoring slump.

The Real Madrid forwards have been struggling in the Spanish league, with just two goals between them.

Ronaldo, while striking six times in the Champions League, has tallied only one in seven Liga appearances.

Benzema is having an even tougher time, with just two in 12 matches across all competitions.

“It’s true that this is not normal, but they just need to keep training and keep trying as they have been doing,” Zidane says.

“You don’t need to tell Karim and Cristiano that they should train more, it’s something they do. They will go out on the pitch and score, I am sure of it.”

Over his career, Ronaldo has thrived against Real’s crosstown rival, Atletico. He holds the record for the Spanish capital derby with 21 goals.

Benzema’s performances, however, have not been as impressive, with three goals in his last 14 league matches against Atletico.

Zidane says Ronaldo and Benzema focused on recovering their scoring form last week during the international break, when they stayed at the club instead of joining their national sides.

“We have been working on it,” he said. “What I want is that my players, my forwards, play well, and tomorrow is a good match for them to keep trying.”

Their scoring droughts have contributed to Real’s irregular season.

Real is in third place and level on points with Atletico, which is fourth after having trouble winning at its new Wanda Metropolitan Stadium.

Both sides need a victory to keep pace with leader Barcelona, which visits Leganes hours earlier.

If Barcelona wins, Madrid and Atletico will be staring at an 11-point gap by kickoff.