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Fresh Look at La Liga: The Zidane effect is real

The "Zidane effect" is a reality after all. The Frenchman took over at Real Madrid in January with no top-level coaching experience and initial impressions were mixed, but he has now led Los Blancos to the Champions League final. The gamble for Florentino Perez has well and truly paid off.

In his first few weeks in charge, the players appeared happier and all spoke of how the team was more unified under Zidane. Pepe even said that the 1998 World Cup star would go on to become one of the best coaches in the world.

However, there were ups and downs. Big wins at home early on in his reign were similar to results attained by Benitez, while Madrid struggled away and the loss to Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu in late February raised serious doubts all over again.

Since then, though, he has shown that he is an upgrade on Rafa. The 2-1 win in the Clasico at Camp Nou was a big boost, ending Barcelona's 39-match unbeaten streak and also reopening the title race as the Catalans subsequently suffered a dip in form.


Days later, Madrid lost 2-0 at Wolfsburg, but that only made Zidane more determined. "I love a difficult challenge," he said. And his side won the second match 3-0 to turn the tie around and make the last four. Now, with a narrow victory over Manchester City, they are in the final and his influence cannot be understated.

Under Benitez, Real managed an extremely fortuitous win over Paris Saint-Germain in the group stages, but were desperately disappointing against the top teams and were made to look ludicrous by Barca in their 4-0 Clasico loss at the Santiago Bernabeu. Four was bad enough, but it could easily have been five or six.

While Rafa was defensive and far too negative, Zidane is a breath of fresh air in press conferences and much happier in dialogue with his players, supporting them instead of the awkward remarks made by the Spaniard which upset many members of the squad. 

FULL STORY | Zidane's Madrid advance to Champions League final
On the pitch, Madrid have improved notably too. The vast spaces between midfield and attack in the Clasico humiliation have been evident at times, but the team works much better now as a unit and even Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo have been tracking back and helping out defensively in the biggest games.

Ronaldo's return to form has been noticeable since the arrival of Zizou. With Benitez, the relationship was never smooth and under Zidane, the Portuguese has been scoring in big games (against Barcelona, Roma home and away, his hat-trick at home to Wolfsburg) - something he had not managed in the first half of the campaign with the current Newcastle boss in charge.

The atmosphere has improved and with it, the performances are better. Results have followed and even though Madrid may have peaked too late to win La Liga, they now have a shot at claiming the Champions League. And there was no way that would have happened under Rafa.

Madrid meet city rivals Atletico in the final for a second time in three years and an extremely difficult match awaits against Diego Simeone's side in Milan. Even if Los Blancos end up losing the showpiece on May 28, however, Zidane has steered this club back to where they belong - at the top alongside the very best in Spain and competing with Europe's elite in the Champions League.

So despite his lack of coaching experience, Zidane looks like the right man to take the club forward. And after hitting the winner to claim La Novena and assisting Carlo Ancelotti when Madrid won La Decima, he has a shot at bringing home La Undecima now

Rafa was never the right man, but Zizou is - and the "Zidane effect" is a reality after all.