The tempest has passed and Zinedine Zidane’s boat is not only still afloat, but moving full steam ahead.
His Real Madrid side weathered the storm and emerged from a white-knuckle week with three huge victories, the wins over Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach capped by a derby triumph over Atletico Madrid.
Little over a week ago Zidane was on president Florentino Perez’s chopping block but he has effortlessly steered the club to much calmer waters. Real beat Diego Simeone’s side 2-0 on Saturday night, cutting the gap between the sides to three points in La Liga, although Atletico remain top of the table - for now - and Los Blancos climbed to third.
Last Saturday Madrid visited Sevilla and scraped a 1-0 win to stanch the bleeding of domestic points and find their footing. That was followed on Wednesday with a comfortable 2-0 win over Gladbach in the Champions League which swerved Madrid out of the path of potential group-stage humiliation and into top spot.
After a third victory, over Atletico, Los Blancos can watch UEFA’s last-16 draw on Monday with a sense of calm, the skies bright and hope filling the sails.
Feelings around the club have changed dramatically in an important week, the kind of week that can act as a launchpad for title dreams and silverware hunting. Crucially, every player Zidane has used in the past eight days has given their all, pressing until the very end, never wavering in their concentration.
Atletico arrived at the Alfredo Di Stefano as league leaders with six points and a game in hand on their more illustrious neighbours. Simeone’s side had gone 26 league games without losing and scored seven wins in a row, to illustrate the size of the task for Real.
They had never been behind this season in the top flight and conceded just two goals, until Casemiro broke the deadlock with a well-placed header into the bottom corner, with Karim Benzema previously striking the post.Getty Images
The Brazilian, remarkably, has more goals (26) than team-mates Toni Kroos (19) and Luka Modric (24), in fewer appearances for the club than either of his midfield partners. This was a huge one, leaving Atletico an uphill battle, especially considering Simeone’s set-up.
The coach benched Thomas Lemar and Angel Correa, instead choosing to play more cautiously. It was a mistake. Atletico have been impressive thus far this season because of their increased attacking intent.
Luis Suarez looked lost with his team playing too deep behind him, while Joao Felix was reduced to hacking Casemiro in a frustrating first half. The visitors didn’t manage a single first-half shot, only the second time they have failed to do so in the last five seasons.
This was an Atletico that lacked fight, which is a rare Atletico indeed. Zidane’s relentless Madrid sucked it out of them.
Simeone changed things up at half-time and threw on Angel Correa and Thomas Lemar, the latter of which brought too much fight, if anything. He was nearly sent off as soon as he came on for a wild lunge on Casemiro.
Atletico were brighter, but in the end it was the same old story for them, now unable to defeat Real in nine straight league games - and their last loss before this came at the Santiago Bernabeu in February.
Dani Carvajal scored Real’s second with a brilliant volley from distance, although the record books will note it as an Oblak own goal, as the ball struck the post and then the Slovenian stopper’s back before crossing the line.
Suarez was toothless up front for Atletico, despite his history of being a thorn in Real’s side with Barcelona, while Felix took out his anger on the plastic seats after an early withdrawal.
“Playing like this, nobody can hurt us,” said Zidane’s first-mate Benzema after the win over Gladbach. And so it proved. If the coach can keep the team in this golden moment, this season holds plenty of promise.