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Zidane and the "same 11 little sods"


By making amends is a man’s true worth judged: Zinedine Zidane, who bemoaned a “lack of intensity” in Paris, sent out “the same eleven little sods,” an affectionate expression that John Toshak used to use, in Seville and they responded. It wasn’t exactly the same starting eleven, with Sergio Ramos coming in for Éder Militão, which is not small beans. But the remaining ten were all present and incorrect for the debacle against PSG yet in the Sánchez Pizjuán, which has always been a difficult stadium for Madrid to visit, they played completely differently: they shut down space, with Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard dropping deep to cover their wings, they attacked en masse and defended en masse.

Sevilla follow a similar model. The strength of the collective block has been the side’s calling card in the 21st century and it has served them well. Julen Lopetegui’s side are potent, sure of themselves and move forward and backwards quickly. That made for a game in which there was a lot of feinting between two sets of players eager to avoid mistakes. And it is also why there were few chances to score. It was a leisurely one for the keepers. But there was always one thing working in Madrid’s favour; they had more weaponry up front. Sevilla lacked the cutting edge provided by Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard, with James in close support. Thusly Thibaut Courtois had nothing to do, Tomas Vaklic was occasionally employed and a single goal settled the affair.

Zidane's faith pays dividends

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Aitor AlcaldeGetty Images

It was a good goal, to be fair. And that single strike, from the head of Benzema again, sent Madrid to the top of table, neck and neck with Athletic Bilbao. José Mourinho surprised the other day when he prudently said on Spanish television that Madrid remained well-placed in LaLiga and soon enough he was proven correct. Football tends to lean towards polar exaggerations. Zidane, who was all but finished after Paris, handed the same personnel a chance for redemption in Seville and was rewarded with a courageous, studious and hard-fought victory. It was a game that showed Zidane’s players remain committed to him and despite the squad being imbalanced, which it is, they are determined to do the best they can with what they have available.