Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has weathered the storm after last week’s humiliating Champions League defeat at Paris St Germain by taking his team to the top of La Liga, but he faces another test in Saturday’s local derby at Atletico Madrid.
The Frenchman came in for heavy criticism following their limp 3-0 surrender to an under-strength PSG but Real showed character to respond with a 1-0 win at early leaders Sevilla four days later.
He then made eight changes to his starting lineup against Osasuna on Wednesday but still saw his side earn a 2-0 win, recalling the sweeping rotations he routinely made when Real went on to win a La Liga and Champions League double in 2016/17.
Making so many alterations with the team still looking fragile was a risky move, but his first-choice players will be feeling fresher for the derby while he also has a welcome selection dilemma for the short trip to the Wanda Metropolitano.
Uruguayan youngster Federico Valverde and goalscoring debutant Rodrygo Goes, 18, were among the top performers against Osasuna and their youthful energy could come in handy against Atletico, especially after more experienced players like Toni Kroos were criticised for showing a lack of intensity against PSG.
Zidane was typically tight-lipped when asked what had changed in the week since the thrashing in France and stressed the uplift in results did not mean his side had ironed out all their problems.
“This is just the start and we weren’t so bad last week and we’re not so good now. We just have to try and keep on this path, play with aggression and defend when we need to,” he said.
“We just have to believe in what we do, because we’re going to have difficult moments again.”
Atletico are one point behind Real after earning a bittersweet 2-0 win at Real Mallorca in which Diego Costa ended a six-month goal drought but his strike partner Alvaro Morata was sent off.
Morata is now suspended for the derby against his former club, while Luka Modric will be missing for Real due to injury.
Also on Saturday, champions Barcelona visit Getafe looking to snap a worrying run of seven away games without a win and are set to be without all-time top scorer Lionel Messi, who hurt his thigh in Tuesday’s nervy 2-1 win at home to Villarreal.