MADRID: Real Madrid fought back on Saturday as Raphael Varane scored twice to complete a gutsy 2-1 win against bottom club Huesca and ease the pressure on coach Zinedine Zidane.
An angry Zidane told reporters on Friday to show more “respect” after a poor run of results prompted many to suggest Madrid need wholesale changes this summer.
His players responded by digging deep against Huesca, with Varane the unlikely hero, the defender twice finishing in the second half to seal victory after Javier Galan’s stunning strike had put Huesca in front.
Madrid were without a number of injured players including Eden Hazard, Dani Carvajal, Lucas Vazquez and Sergio Ramos, who the club said on Saturday has undergone surgery on his left knee.
The team also had Thibaut Courtois to thank after their goalkeeper made an excellent save with the scores level, before Varane tapped in the winner.
“We are not comfortable, we were OK, but we have to build and go step by step until we’re playing well again,” said Zidane after the game. “We have to get back to playing with happiness, playing like Real Madrid.”
Zidane was back in the dug-out for the first time since testing positive for coronavirus.
“We won the league last year, not 10 years ago,” Zidane had said on Friday. “Us, Real Madrid. Show a bit of respect for that.”
Yet Madrid have been a pale shadow of the resilient, determined side that stormed to the La Liga title at the end of last season.
Their reward for this win is to reduce the gap behind leaders Atletico Madrid to seven points, with Atletico boasting two games in hand.
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman has already said it will be “very difficult” for anyone to catch Atletico but Real Madrid are capable of putting together a run that at least puts their rivals under pressure.
Real also have a Champions League last-16 tie against Atalanta fast approaching and need momentum.
“When things are difficult, you show character,” said Varane. “It’s a very important win, we have to change the dynamic. We have to win and improve the confidence. It’s been a difficult time but we have to fight to the end.”
After some early chances for Huesca, only Karim Benzema went close for Real Madrid in the first half.
Huesca came out firing at the start of the second.
They twice hit the crossbar as Mikel Rico lobbed Courtois but his effort was just too high and then Rafa Mir volleyed brilliantly at the back post but was also denied by the woodwork.
In between, Huesca did take the lead as Shinji Okazaki broke down the right and pulled the ball back for Galan on the edge of the box. With Madrid players back, the chance appeared lost but Galan swerved a sumptuous strike into the corner off the post.
Madrid, though, levelled just before the hour when Benzema’s free-kick hit the crossbar and popped up, hanging in the air. Varane rose highest in a crowd to nod in.
Huesca would have regained the lead had Mir’s bullet header not been superbly saved by Courtois and Madrid pushed for a winner, Marcelo and Benzema both going close.
With six minutes left, they found it. Toni Kroos’ cross reaching Casemiro in the box and he had the composure to head across for Varane, who had an open net.