Zinedine Zidane saluted the performances of his fringe players after injury-ravaged Real Madrid cruised to a 3-0 win over Sevilla in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.
Madrid rested Cristiano Ronaldo and were without a multitude of first-team regulars, including Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Gareth Bale, but they were excellent in their absence.
James Rodriguez led the way with two goals either side of a fierce Raphael Varane header, and Madrid afforded Sevilla very few chances as they take a commanding lead into the last-16 second leg on January 12 and extended their unbeaten run to 38 matches in all competitions.
Zidane, who was celebrating a year in charge of the club, told reporters: “Knowing that we had some players missing meant that others would have to come in and work extra hard and things went very well.
“What we’re doing now [the unbeaten run] is not easy. I have to congratulate all my players for that.
“We enjoyed a complete game in the first half. Scoring early helped us very much.
“Putting three past Sevilla is not an easy thing to do.”
During the match Sevilla felt aggrieved with numerous decisions made by referee Mateu Lahoz, particularly for the penalty given for a push on Luka Modric that James – rather than the penalised Gabriel Mercado – actually appeared to be guilty of.
But head coach Jorge Sampaoli was eager to steer clear of excuses and was adamant that Madrid’s “superiority” was what defeated Sevilla, not the officials.
“The difference on the scoreboard was down to Real Madrid,” he said. “They were much the better team, not the referee.
“We were outmatched. We need to re-establish with the feelings with which the team finished 2016.
“The result has nothing to do with the lack of direction, but more with the superiority of Real Madrid.
“Madrid made the difference in the first half and they were far superior.”