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La Liga Hangover: Welcome to Zidane's New World, Where Cristiano Now Lives

Published by Bleacher Report on Mon, 26 Sep 2016

Grown men instructingother grown men to sit down has become the main event, or so it might seem. Only a handful of hours after Made in Manchester gave us its latest episode on Saturday afternoon, dubbed "Roo Are Ya!" by the Mirror, Made in Madrid served us up its own equivalent. Even if initially there had been less clamour for "Zizou and Ronny," based on the reaction, the episode might have succeeded as a standalone short film.Perhaps that's not surprising. In a year in which the line between football and reality television has been growing ever blurrier, we've been heading this way for a while.Before a ball had even been kicked in Europe this season, we'd been given#Pogback andStormzy, Jose and Pep, Jose and Arsene, Jose and Jurgen, Jose and Juan. Throw in Adidas andMino Raiola and it wouldn't have been surprising if Amazon Prime had been lurking with the idea for a spin-off. Football delivers like this, even without that white round thing.Saturday's locations were perfect. After the "at-home" affair in England's north-west, we got the holiday version later on. In Gran Canaria, tailor-made for what's seemingly attempted to be presented as a travelling drama series, Real Madrid's encounter with Las Palmas became the nice plate on which the main dish was eventually served, with Zinedine Zidane substituting Cristiano Ronaldo with 20 minutes still to play. Cue the focus on sideways glances.Thankfully Zidane isn't bothered. When the Frenchman was appointed in January, the major question didn't centre on experience or a lack of it, but on whether he'd manage as himself or an extension of club president Florentino Perez. For a while there, the former Galactico wavered in that respect, with mixed signals the early theme. But not now.Zidane's stance has grown clear as his short career has progressed. Prioritising work, balance and a meritocracy, the Madrid boss has gone against the grain at the Santiago Bernabeu.His sidelining of James Rodriguez has been emblematic of his approach, but it hasn't stopped there. The expensive Isco and Danilo have seen similar treatment; the more industrious Lucas Vazquez and Casemiro have become go-to men; rotation has become a viable thing rather than a politically murky world. Rafa Benitez is still wondering what he did wrong.The answer is that he's not Zidane. The Frenchman was chosen as a sort of alluring symbol by Perez but has steadily grown to operate as though Perez isn't even there. Being a global icon helps, but having the cojones to do it his way is another thing again. "The way to have power," Boss Tweed once said, "is to take it." Zidane's subbing of Ronaldo would have got a nod from Boss.If only it was viewed in footballing terms. From the instant the substitute's board went in the air at the Estadio de Gran Canaria on Saturday evening, we were essentially given a fixed "Ronaldo cam."His expression was analysed, his interactions with Zidane and his replacement in Vazquez were closely watched, and it became compulsory that every Madrid chance thereafter would be followed by a Ronaldo reaction clip, devilish eyes the wanted shot. Television had successfully made himSpencer Matthews. Soon afterwards, Zidane and club directorEmilio Butragueno were quizzed on the matter. Portuguese media, according to AS, insisted Ronaldo was "furious" with his manager. AS itself ran a poll, quizzing its readers on whether Zizou was right in what he'd done.The way it was all fussed over, you could have been excused for thinking Zidane had spent the night drunk-dialling Ronaldo's mum, rather than taking off a player who hadn't had a great night.He really hadn't, either. Still short of full fitness while working his way back from injury, Ronaldo played like a player still short of full fitness while working his way back from injury. That's cutting-edgeinsight right there, but is that perhaps the reason why Ronny had the 'ump' Rather than fuming with a manager he's constantly praised, might he have been simply frustrated in not meeting his own standards'Ronaldo's demonstrative manner fires all this stuff up, but it's hard to understand the basis for the dissection. After finishing two of the last three seasons worn down by his own drive and hobbled by injury, the Portuguese had acknowledged he'd need to let up from time to time.Zidane has also saidhe will continue to rotate, and the consensus is that he's right. And yet, when it all arrives, the lip-readers are wheeled out anyway. Is it any wonder why that white round thing sometimes seems irrelevant'Still, what Saturday did show is that this is now Zidane's team above all else, and that's quite the achievement. At a club which has viewed managers like Imodium tabletsnecessary for cleaning things up initially but not what's wanted as a long-term dietReal Madrid is now his world, working to his rules. For now, anyway.When Butragueno was asked about the decision late on Saturday night, he told Movistar (h/t Marca):"Those decisions belong to Zidane. The board of directors refuses to interfere with the coach's judgment."Unconfirmed reports suggest Carlo Ancelotti fell over as he said it.Behind the Made in Madrid set, there was a damn good game of football, too, if anyone cares. Las Palmasdressed like Brazil and playing like them too, reflecting the essence of a manager in Quique Setien whose philosophy he says is that of Johan Cruyffhad more of the ball and caused problems. Tana was brilliant again, and Roque Mesa conducted things from midfield.In response, Madrid were fast on the break if a little messy. The absence of Casemiro hurt, but they did take 27 shots on goal, per WhoScored.com, and forced Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas to have a blinder.Their issue wasn't so much the Ronaldo substitution but the lingering issues in defence, where Keylor Navas is being missed, where Raphael Varane is stagnating and where Sergio Ramos is becoming an entertaining but not overly reliable caricature of himself.On the back of Wednesday's stalemate with Villarreal, the 2-2 draw with the islanders means four points dropped in four days against one colour. On Tuesday, Madrid go to Germany to face more of it in Borussia Dortmund. "Yellow fever," read Marca's eyebrow-raising headline. Perhaps that can be the name of this episode.Sevilla Might Be Bold, but They're Not AthleticSalvatore Sirigu had had enough. After 87 minutes of dealing with Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia, after being crashed into over and over, after his team had been hustled off the pitch at San Mames by opponents who excel at exactly that,Siriguwent to claim another high ball sent into his box. Again, Aduriz crashed into him.The Sevilla goalkeeper's hands were strong, but he'd reached breaking point. He drew his arm up and then drove his elbow down into the top of Aduriz's back. "Sirigu, Sirigu, he catches the ball and he does kung-fu," ran AS' live coverage. His manager, Jorge Sampaoli, looked on like a stunned cat.Sevilla ended the clash with 10 men and midfielder Vicente Iborra in goal, all their substitutions already made. It summed up their day, one which showed them that though they might be bold, Athletic Bilbao better know who they are.Aduriz put away the resulting penalty kick to make it 3-1, but that scoreline flattered Sevilla a little. In now-typical fashion, the Andalucians had dominated the ball but had looked muddled with it, lacking rhythm, cohesion and a clear idea.In response, Athletic waited for them, picking them off. Inaki Williams led the breaks, and full-backsMikel Balenziaga and Oscar De Marcos preyed upon the high starting positions of their Sevilla counterparts, with Benat and Mikel San Jose picking them out.Up front, Aduriz and Garcia did what Aduriz and Garcia do. By day's end, the shot count read 14 to five in Athletic's favour, per WhoScored.com, despite Sevilla's command of possession.In an early battle in the top-four race, the Basques showed that their continuity is an asset over Sevilla's striking but still developing identity. Though Samir Nasri was again excellent for Sampaoli, the Argentinian is lacking a reference point in midfield and a defensive unit comfortable playing through the lines from the back. Sevilla's system looks almost split in two. Athletic have no such problems.Not Forgotten Amid the Hangover"The final result was deceptive," said Luis Enrique. "It looks easy, but that was not the case. Not at all." The Barcelona manager wanted to stress the pressure Sporting Gijon put his side under at El Molinon on Saturday, but the 5-0 scoreline was another example of the Catalans' versatility in dealing with it. Like they had against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup and against Athletic Bilbao last month, Barcelona cunningly drew Sporting onto them, holding the ball slightly deeper than normal before breaking with a run and two passes. In the absence of Lionel Messi, the team's shape was a little more 4-4-2 as well, just as we'd seen in the aforementioned clashes with Neymar missing.Sergi Roberto: Not a bad right-back for a central midfielder, eh'Antoine Griezmann did it again for Atletico Madrid against Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday, but the 1-0 win came at a high cost. Midfielder Augusto Fernandez left the pitch early in the first half with a serious knee injury and will be out for six months, according to Marca's Ainhoa Sanchez. Centre-back Jose Gimenez also went down just before the break with a thigh complaint.Eibar are again doing their now-standard early surge. A 2-0 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday leaves them in eighth place after six rounds. Can they avoid the new-year slump this time'Bebe! Have some of that.Alexandre Pato is on the board in La Liga, while his Villarreal team-mateNicola Sansone looks an early candidate for signing of the season.Goal of the Week goes to Celta Vigo's Pione Sisto.Espanyol. Trouble.A win at homeat homefor Real Betis and a goal for Joaquin. Welcome back to 2005. Follow @TimDCollins
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