MADRID • Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said the club used the criticism thrown at them in recent weeks to their advantage in an emphatic 2-0 La Liga home win over crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Less than two weeks ago, the hosts were reeling from shock defeats by Alaves and Shakhtar Donetsk, with a triple test against Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach and Atletico on the horizon.
But with Zidane’s future on the line, they have risen to the occasion, winning all three matches in a return to the form that saw them rack up 10 straight victories en route to winning the La Liga title last season.
Real are now in third, three points behind leaders Atletico (26), and despite having played a game more, have momentum after ending their rivals’ unbeaten league run going back to February.
“We have been hurt by some of the things that have been said but they have made us stronger,” Zidane said after Casemiro and Jan Oblak’s own goal gave his side bragging rights in the Madrid derby.
“Criticism is part of football and you have to learn how to cope with it. But the most important thing is that we believe in what we are doing. And today, we proved Real Madrid know how to play.”
The Frenchman also gave special mention to his midfield pair of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who he said were in the same form as when they led Madrid to three consecutive Champions League titles.
However, he emphasised that Real still had a lot of work to do to maintain consistency, adding: “I’m happy with everything we did in the game. We pressed them all over the pitch and didn’t let Atletico into the game.
“We built on the last two games and competed very well for the majority of the game. But there’s nothing to celebrate because we haven’t won anything yet.”
While he was euphoric, his counterpart Diego Simeone was downcast after the visitors, who were the last unbeaten team in the league, were thoroughly beaten at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium.
“Today we played very badly, the coach did not have the lucidity to interpret the game better and the team did not do what was asked of them,” he said. “I’ll take some important lessons from the defeat, there are areas I need to improve in as a coach as they were far superior to us.”