Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan will stage a new competition called the ‘European Solidarity Cup’ in 2021 to raise money for medical facilities in Italy and Spain.
The three clubs will play each other in a round-robin group, with Inter against Bayern held in Milan, Real facing Inter in Madrid and Bayern hosting Real in Munich.
Proceeds from the fixtures will be donated to medical facilities in Italy and Spain, two of the world’s worst-hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic.
The aim is “to send out a message of solidarity and fraternity to the people of Europe”, said a statement from Real Madrid.
Dates for the tournament have not been decided. The timing will “depend on the match calendar and when football can be played in front of fans again”, the clubs said.
Bayern will invite 5,000 nurses, carers and doctors to the Allianz Arena for their match against Real Madrid.
“Nurses, carers and doctors, in particular, are doing an outstanding job for society at the moment,” said Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. “We, the three clubs, want to show these heroes our appreciation, respect and gratitude.”
“The great commitment of all healthcare workers has been essential to allow us to look to the future,” said Inter president Steven Zhang.
“With this initiative, we want to thank them and celebrate their work and at the same time send a message of unity and solidarity between nations.”
Real Madrid players have agreed to cut their salaries by as much as a fifth, the La Liga club announced on Wednesday, as Spanish football remains on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement, Real said players and coaches from the side’s football and basketball teams, as well as key directors, had voluntarily agreed to the reduction, of either 10 or 20 percent, “depending on the circumstances that may affect the closing of the current 2019/20 sports season”.
Real didn’t say what circumstances would affect the rate of salary cut, but Spanish media reported players will receive 10 percent less if the season is completed and 20 percent less if the current campaign is terminated.
The cuts will shave between 28 million and 56 million euros ($30.4 million and $60.8 million) off Real’s salary bill.
It also means the club has avoided using the partial unemployment (ERTE) scheme that cut Barcelona and Atletico Madrid players’ salaries by 70 percent.
La Liga has recommended clubs take advantage of the scheme, and both Sevilla and Espanyol have also put in a request to be included on the ERTE scheme.
Over 14,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Spain, the second worst-hit country from the virus after Italy, with 146,690 registered cases.
Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema has mocked France striker Olivier Giroud by likening himself to a Formula One car and Giroud a go-kart.
Benzema has not played for France since 2015 and watched from afar as Giroud spearheaded the team’s World Cup triumph in Russia two years ago.
With over 500 appearances for Real Madrid and in his 11th season with the Spanish giants, no questions remain over Benzema’s playing skills.
Asked about the Chelsea forward during a question and answer session on Instagram on Sunday night, Benzema said: “You can’t confuse a Formula One car with a go-kart, and I’m being kind. I know I’m a Formula One car…
“It works because he’s there, that’s it. It’s not going to be spectacular. (Antoine) Griezmann and (Kylian) Mbappe get seen more while he rolls his sleeves up and does the dirty work.
“But does everyone like his game? I don’t know.”
During the 2016 and 2017 seasons ahead of up Russia 2018, Giroud scored 16 goals for France in 24 games.
He also played every match at the World Cup and although he failed to find the target in Russia, his team came home with the trophy.
France coach Didier Deschamps has sidelined Benzema since a legal case in 2015.
The case involving Benzema allegedly trying to facilitate a scheme to blackmail fellow France international Mathieu Valbuena over a compromising private film on a stolen mobile phone.
The investigation is ongoing and Benzema is now waiting to hear if he will face a criminal trial.
Benzema has scored 19 goals in 32 appearances for Real Madrid this season while Giroud has largely been a back-up player for Chelsea, despite a decent run of form in February.
Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu will be used as a storage centre for medical equipment to help Spain’s fight against the coronavirus, the club confirmed on Thursday.
The 81,000-seater stadium will house donations made by businesses and organisations, particularly those that work in the sports sector, before passing them onto the Spanish health authorities.
“Real Madrid, in collaboration with the High Council for Sport (CSD), has launched a project in Madrid to supply and distribute strategic medical supplies to be used in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic,” read a club statement.
It added: “All of the stored supplies will be passed on to the Spanish health authorities, under the authority of the Spanish government, so that the resources, which are so necessary in the current health emergency situation, are employed in the best and most efficient manner.”
Manchester City’s Champions League last 16, second leg with Real Madrid and Lyon’s trip to Juventus became the latest high-profile football matches to be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, UEFA confirmed on Thursday.
Juventus defender Daniele Rugani has tested positive for the virus, forcing players and staff of the Italian champions into quarantine.
Madrid players have also been put into isolation after one of the club’s basketball players tested positive for COVID-19.
Both matches were due to take place on Tuesday, March 17.
As it stands, Wednesday’s two last 16, second legs between Bayern Munich and Chelsea and Barcelona and Napoli are still set to go ahead behind closed doors.
However, UEFA is to have a crisis meeting on Tuesday with representatives from all 55 national associations and club and player bodies to decide how national leagues, European competitions and Euro 2020 should proceed.
“The decision to postpone Tuesday’s game was made in conjunction with UEFA and follows confirmation that players from Real Madrid will self-isolate for fifteen days,” City said in a statement.
“The Club sends its best wishes to the players and staff at Real Madrid’s football and basketball teams.”
Serie A in Italy, the European country worst hit by the virus, has already suspended its matches until April 3.
Matches have been suspended for two weeks in Spain, while France’s Ligue 1 will continue its season but without spectators.
No such restrictions have been put upon Premier League games with a full round of games set to take place this weekend.
City’s home match with Arsenal that was due to take place on Wednesday is the only Premier League game to be abandoned so far after Arsenal players came into contact with Olympiakos owner Vangelis Marinakis, who tested positive for the virus, after a Europa League match two weeks ago.
Real Madrid’s players and staff went into quarantine on Thursday, Spain’s La Liga paused its season and the NBA halted games indefinitely as the coronavirus pandemic rocked world sport.
La Liga authorities took the decision to suspend matches in the top two divisions for two weeks after Real Madrid confirmed its senior football team was in quarantine following a positive test for one of the club’s basketball players. The teams share facilities.
Real Madrid said “it has been decided to close the facilities at our training ground and it is also recommended that all Real Madrid personnel who work there remain in quarantine.”
Serie A in Italy, the European country worst hit by the virus, has already suspended its matches until April 3 while France’s Ligue 1 will continue its season but without spectators.
In Greece, the lighting of the Olympic flame for the 2020 Tokyo Games went ahead earlier Thursday with the ceeremony closed to the public.
Preparations for the Formula One season-opening Melbourne Grand Prix were in chaos after the McLaren team withdrew from Sunday’s race when one of its staff tested positive for the virus.
Even before McLaren made that announcement, reigning world champion driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes said he was “very surprised” that the race was scheduled to go ahead.
“I don’t think it’s great that we have races but it really is shocking that we’re all sitting in this room,” Hamilton said at a pre-race press conference packed with media.
In the United States, the NBA suspended its season after a Utah Jazz player, thought to be Rudy Gobert from France, tested positive for coronavirus, prompting his team’s game against Oklahoma City Thunder to be abandoned just before tip-off when many spectators were already in their seats.
The league said the affected player was not at the arena and was being treated by health officials in Oklahoma City.
“The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice,” the league said. “The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Jazz issued a statement saying the player had flu-like symptoms but initially tested negative for influenza and a respiratory infection.
The decision was made to test again for COVID-19, for which he tested positive.
The league and the team have declined to name the player, but Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone told reporters he believed it was 27-year-old defensive specialist Gobert.
The player had angered members of the Jazz media on Monday when he deliberately touched every microphone at a news conference, in what appeared to be a show of bravado about the virus.
Earlier NBA team owners and league officials had been wrestling with how to manage in the face of the outbreak, considering not only postponing games, but also playing in empty arenas and Thursday’s game between the Golden State Warriors and the Brooklyn Nets in San Francisco would have taken place behind closed doors.
In other sports, the Miami Open became the latest major tennis tournament to be cancelled, following the Indian Wells tournament in California.
Norway’s Aleksander Kilde won alpine skiing’s men’s World Cup title after the final races of the season at Kranjska Gora at the weekend were scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The ski resort in Slovenia, close to the Italian border, was to host a giant slalom and a slalom on Saturday and Sunday but Kilde clinched his first overall title as the campaign ended early.
The women’s ski season had been ended prematurely on Wednesday, handing the overall title to Federica Brignone ahead of Mikaela Shiffrin, who finished second after missing a month of the season following the death of her father.
Real Madrid’s response to winning the Clasico was another surprise defeat on Sunday as they lost 2-1 away at Real Betis to hand the initiative straight back to Barcelona.
Betis were deserving victors of a thrilling contest at the Benito Villamarin where two galling Madrid errors cost them their place at the top of La Liga, with Barca now two points clear.
A heavy touch from Sergio Ramos led to Sidnei’s stunning opener for Betis and then Karim Benzema, who equalised with a penalty on the stroke of half-time, was at fault for their 82nd-minute winner.
Benzema’s misplaced pass in midfield allowed Cristian Tello to go clear and he held his nerve to give Betis their first victory in eight games that adds yet another twist to this season’s back-and-forth title race.
“We lacked everything today,” said Real coach Zinedine Zidane.
“It was our worst game of the season. We lacked energy, fluency, possession, aggression. It was a bad day and that can happen. I am responsible. We can’t lose our heads but we can’t be happy either.”
Madrid appeared to have taken a significant step forward, at least psychologically, by beating Barcelona 2-0 last weekend but this result undid all their good work at the Santiago Bernabeu while bringing defensive doubts swiftly back to the surface.
Betis climb to 12th and put eight points between themselves and the bottom three.
Madrid have now lost three out of their last four games and won only two from seven, a dip in form that has appeared even more charitable given Barca’s own problems on and off the pitch.
After a game at home to Eibar on Friday, Zinedine Zidane’s side will travel to Manchester City in the Champions League but on this evidence their hopes of recovering their 2-1 home defeat from the first leg would seem faint at best.
Ramos will be suspended at the Etihad Stadium and his own poor run of form continued against Betis, where he was at fault for their first goal and then complicit in compounding Benzema’s error for the second.
“We haven’t played the way we trained all week,” said Ramos. “We have to be self-critical. And now we have to wait for those above us to slip up.”
Eder Militao will likely come in for Ramos against City and he was given an outing at right-back in the absence of the ill Dani Carvajal while Marcelo was preferred to Ferland Mendy on the opposite side.
Gareth Bale was left out of the starting line-up for a fourth match running.
Betis were the better side in the first half and might have taken the lead earlier had Marc Bartra not headed over from four yards or Thibaut Courtois not reacted quickly to push away Nabil Fekir’s thundering shot.
But five minutes before half-time they finally broke through, aided by Ramos, who tried to dribble the ball out after Fekir’s shot was blocked only for a heavy touch to allow the forward to retrieve.
Off balance, Ramos bundled into Fekir and probably would have conceded a penalty had the loose ball not spilled to Sidnei, who instead hammered it into the top corner.
Deservedly in front, Betis then went in level at the interval as Sidnei, perhaps with the adrenaline still pumping, fouled Marcelo in the box. Benzema drove into the bottom corner for only his third goal this year.
Both teams had chances to find a winner. A scintillating Betis break ended with Sergio Canales sending Joaquin through but after rounding Courtois he tried to square back to Canales when the net looked open. Luka Modric sprinted back and hacked away.
Madrid enjoyed their own spell of pressure as Modric’s shot from distance was saved and Mendy, on for Marcelo, curled onto the crossbar, helped on its way by the fingertips of Joel Robles.
But it was Betis that landed the decisive blow, again benefitting from a Madrid mistake. Benzema came deep and his pass inside was loose, persuading Ramos to dash out to intercept but he was beaten and left stranded.
Andres Guardado put Tello through the gap and he sent Courtois diving towards one corner before sliding the ball into the other.
Real Madrid won the Clasico and might have saved their season as they ended their slump in the best way possible on Sunday, by beating Barcelona 2-0 and returning to the top of La Liga.
Vinicius Junior’s deflected finish and a stoppage-time goal from Mariano Diaz decided a frenzied contest at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Madrid were given life after a Champions League defeat by Manchester City had left them on the brink of crisis.
Instead, an affirming victory sends them one point clear at the top of the table and shifts focus back to Quique Setien’s Barcelona, who were outfought and, at times, outplayed, even if they had chances too.
Lionel Messi’s rasping shot was denied by Thibaut Courtois in the first half but it was the Argentinian’s opposing captain Sergio Ramos who was thrashing his arms in celebration after the final whistle.
His reaction was an indication of the importance of this victory, not only for the effect it has on the standings but on the dynamic of the title race, which had seemed to switch firmly in favour of Barca.
Cristiano Ronaldo was watching from an executive box and Madrid could have done with him during a period in which they had won only one of their last five games.
Zinedine Zidane said on Saturday this match would not decide who lifted the trophy in May but a Barca win and a five-point gap might well have been difficult to close.
Yet from the start, Barcelona seemed keener to kill the game than win it, playing for time in the hope of keeping the contest tight, when they might have been better off attacking their opponents’ fragility.
Home advantage has certainly meant little in this fixture given Barca had won their last four league meetings here, with Ramos admitting last week that Madrid’s players have begun to feel anxiety inside their own stadium.
There was more tension than creativity in the early stages as Fede Valverde crashed into Arthur Melo before fellow Spain full-backs Dani Carvajal and Jordi Alba were both booked after a disagreement.
Madrid had the better of the play and regularly broke at speed through Vinicius down the left but constantly they failed to make the final pass, with Isco once left with his head in his hands after Marcelo opted not to pull back.
Courtois Rock Solid
Barcelona played for time, their passing slow and their lack of urgency to restart obviously. At one point Messi bent to do up his shoelaces and re-spotted the ball before taking a corner.
But the visitors also created chances as Antoine Griezmann drove over from Alba’s cutback and then Madrid had Courtois to thank for two excellent saves.
First, Arthur held off Toni Kroos to go clear but his finish was blocked by Courtois’ foot and then the Belgian palmed away Messi’s shot after he had skipped in behind Madrid’s defence.
Ramos was lucky to get away with an error that allowed Nelson Semedo to break past him while Alba risked a second yellow when he checked Valverde but referee Mateu Lahoz was unmoved.
Barcelona were sloppy after half-time and Madrid should have capitalised. Instead, Isco’s header beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen but not Gerard Pique on the line and Karim Benzema volleyed over after a sloppy pass from Arturo Vidal.
Vidal was replaced by Martin Braithwaite, Barca’s emergency signing, and he sprinted in behind Marcelo twice in his first minute.
But Madrid remained in the ascendancy and in the 71st minute they took the lead. Benzema came short and pointed right to encourage Vinicius to run in behind. Kroos found him and Vinicius’ shot deflected off the sliding Pique to beat Ter Stegen at his near post.
The game opened up as Barcelona chased an equaliser. Marcelo celebrated when Messi’s surge through was stopped by Raphael Varane. Pique headed Messi’s cross over at the near post. Messi picked up a yellow card for a frustrated slide on Casemiro.
In injury time, Ter Stegen ventured up for a late free-kick but it was Madrid that struck again. Mariano sped past Nelson Semedo and finished from the angle.
Manchester City’s European ban means they are under enormous pressure to win the Champions League this season and they are one step closer after arguably their greatest result in the competition at Real Madrid.
Nothing is won yet, not even after City’s 2-1 victory in the first leg of the last-16 tie at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, as Pep Guardiola was keen to point out.
Real, who been European champions a record 13 times, have a history of dramatic comebacks
However, City’s first-ever victory against one of Europe’s traditional giants in the knockout stages of the Champions League was vindication for Guardiola.
“For us to win at the Bernabeu is a great satisfaction for us,” said the City boss. “It is incredible to be able to win here for us because we are not used to doing these things.
“We hope it will help us in the future to believe in ourselves and to be able to go to any stadium and play the way we have.”
Guardiola said earlier this week City’s two-year Champions League ban, pending appeal, imposed by UEFA for breaching financial fair play rules, would not act as a spur for his players.
But it was on the minds of travelling fans in the Spanish capital, who were singing against European football’s governing body from almost the first minute.
The Catalan is now the visiting coach with most victories at the Bernabeu, with six. But he would have been first in line for criticism had another surprise team selection gone wrong.
Guardiola has re-written the record books domestically in his four seasons in England, but has never progressed beyond the Champions League quarter-finals with City. – Guardiola tactics –
The decision to leave Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho and David Silva on the bench, push Gabriel Jesus into an unfamiliar role wide on the left and often leave the creative force of Kevin De Bruyne isolated up front could easily have backfired.
City were trailing 1-0 when Sterling was introduced from the bench 17 minutes from time.
The England attacker’s presence pushed Jesus and De Bruyne into more natural roles and within five minutes they combined as Jesus headed home the equaliser.
A Sterling burst then lured Dani Carvajal into an ill-timed lunge to concede a penalty. De Bruyne stepped up to convert and City could have put the tie to bed with more chances in the closing stages.
“It was arguably Sterling’s 17-minute cameo that turned the game, rising from the bench like a sharp stone from a catapult, aimed directly and devastatingly at Real’s defence, playing a part in both goals,” wrote The Times newspaper.
Guardiola succeeded in protecting a defence that has often been exposed in the Premier League, with Real restricted to three shots on target.
“This was the famous night for Manchester City when they took it to Real Madrid and stuck it to UEFA,” added The Times.
Guardiola, known for his obsessive attention to detail, has been accused of overthinking when the stakes are ramped up at the sharp end of the Champions League.
It is nine years since the second of his European Cup wins as coach of Barcelona but this time he could revel in how his detailed preparations paid off.
“We had 10 days off in England and in these 10 days I watched the maximum number of Madrid games I could. I make my decisions as a result of what they do,” said Guardiola.
“We decided to play without a striker for the way they defend. They defend so aggressive, man-to-man on the goal kicks, so high and when this happens you have to make the pitch wide.
“I’m pretty sure (Zinedine) Zidane and his people are going to look at what we have done and the second leg is going to be different.”
Guardiola will undoubtedly have his own plan and City still have much to do to finish the job.
But they will always have the Bernabeu win and it is for nights like this they fought so hard to bring Guardiola to Manchester in the first place.
Kevin De Bruyne orchestrated a dramatic Manchester City comeback on Wednesday as they stunned Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu to put one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Madrid looked on course to edge a cagey contest after Isco’s smart finish early in the second half, but De Bruyne teed up Gabriel Jesus in the 78th minute and then tucked away a penalty five minutes later.
A pulsating finish saw Sergio Ramos sent off for preventing Jesus from going clear and Madrid’s captain will now be banned for the second leg at the Etihad Stadium on March 17.
City’s two away goals will make them heavy favourites to go through, even if manager Pep Guardiola was quick to discourage complacency.
“It’s still not over,” he said. “If there is one team that can overcome this it is this club (Real Madrid) with their experience and their history.”
“We know the situation,” said Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane. “We have to go there and win.”
Madrid have now won only one of their last five games, with the Clasico against Barcelona in La Liga to come on Sunday.
“We are on a bad run but we have to get ourselves out of it,” said Zidane. “Sunday is a chance to change.”
Strikers on bench
Guardiola sprung a surprise by picking De Bruyne up front and leaving Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho all on the bench.
“We played without a proper striker because of the way they defend,” said Guardiola.
“They are so aggressive down the middle and when that happens you have to make the pitch wide.”
His gamble paid off handsomely, even if Nicolas Otamendi made the mistake that led to Isco’s opener while an injury to Aymeric Laporte meant Fernandinho had to be introduced midway through the first half.
Laporte must now be doubtful for Sunday’s League Cup final against Aston Villa.
Guardiola insisted on Tuesday that Manchester City’s two-year Champions League ban, pending appeal, imposed by UEFA for breaching financial fair play rules would not act as a spur for his players.
But it was on the minds of travelling fans, who were singing against European football’s governing body from almost the first minute.
The opening half was tentative with both teams’ priority to stifle and City content to concede possession, so long as Jesus and Riyad Mahrez could race away on the break.
Jesus cut inside Raphael Varane but shot straight at Thibaut Courtois and on the stroke of half-time, the Brazilian came close again, this time Ramos blocking and Fede Valverde hacking away off the line.
Real should have scored when Karim Benzema’s header was palmed out by Ederson but Vinicius Junior slipped when about to tap in from five yards out with the goal at his mercy.
City enjoyed their best spell after the break. Casemiro carelessly conceded possession and De Bruyne tore away, feeding Mahrez, who cut in and curled wide. Jesus drove another shot at Courtois.
Zidane considered a change and Gareth Bale was warming up when Madrid took the lead. Otamendi failed to control a Rodri pass and Vinicius broke, with Kyle Walker and Fernandinho rushing to meet him.
They left Isco free behind them and Vinicius picked him out, giving the Spaniard a simple finish.
The hosts smelt an opportunity for a second as Dani Carvajal weaved through and Ramos’s volley was deflected over by Fernandino.
Bale came on for Madrid and Sterling for City. Shortly after, De Bruyne’s clipped cross was too high for Ramos at the back post and Jesus’s header beat a weak right hand from Courtois to equalise.
Five minutes later, City completed the turnaround when Carvajal slid in late on Sterling and De Bruyne made no mistake from the spot.
Gareth Bale came back into the team and Real Madrid came back to beat Osasuna on Sunday as a 4-1 victory in Pamplona strengthened their hold on top spot in La Liga.
Bale had been left out completely for Madrid’s previous four matches but the Welshman returned to the squad and the starting line-up at El Sadar, in a surprise show of faith from coach Zinedine Zidane.
A fortuitous deflection meant Bale assisted Isco’s equalizer too before Sergio Ramos put Madrid in front after Unai Garcia had given Osasuna an early lead.
Substitutes Lucas Vazquez and Luka Jovic then scored from late breaks as Madrid pulled six points clear of Barcelona, who play away at Real Betis later on Sunday.
Barca’s exit in the Copa del Rey overshadowed Madrid’s own shock defeat at home to Real Sociedad in the quarter-finals, a loss that brought a dramatic end to their 21-match unbeaten run.
But Zidane will be relieved to see his team swiftly back on track with a performance full of the kind of resilience that Madrid’s rivals have so lacked in recent weeks.
Bale also keeps coming back under Zidane and the 30-year-old had chances to add a goal to a spirited display before going off to a decent reception from the away support in the second half.
This was only his third appearance since the turn of the year.
Osasuna were the better side in the early stages and took a deserved lead when Unai put his head in front of Casemiro’s dangling foot and steered the ball into the corner.
But Madrid improved as the half wore on and Isco volleyed in an equaliser after Bale attempted to divert Ferland Mendy’s cross, with the ball deflecting kindly into the Spaniard’s path.
Ramos was lucky to escape a red card after sliding in on Ruben Garcia with a high foot and Madrid’s captain took full advantage of his reprieve as he nodded in Casemiro’s looping header to the back post.
Luka Modric had a strong claim for a penalty after he nipped the ball away from Pervis Estupinan in the area before Osasuna enjoyed their most threatening spell.
Inigo Perez’s shot whistled just over and Ruben dragged wide from Nacho Vidal’s pull-back after making space with a neat dummy past Ramos.
Bale went off to applause from the small number of away fans, and Vazquez came on to add a third. Osasuna’s defence were occupied by a Karim Benzema burst and he fed right for Vazquez to drive in. Jovic smashed in a fourth in injury-time.
Zinedine Zidane’s double substitution at half-time transformed the Madrid derby on Saturday as Real Madrid edged past Atletico 1-0 to move six points clear at the top of La Liga.
Karim Benzema scored the winner at the Santiago Bernabeu after Zidane’s decisive intervention turned a contest that Atletico had dominated into another comfortable Real Madrid victory.
Vinicius Junior, one of the substitutes, was a key to the goal.
Second-place Barcelona can cut the gap back to three points by beating Levante at home on Sunday but Atletico now trail the leaders by 13 points.
While Diego Simeone’s side were excellent in the first half, they were yet again blunt in front of goal and then failed to respond when their opponents found a different gear.
This is Atletico’s fifth game without a win. The worry is that on this form, they should worry not about the title race but about missing out on Champions League qualification.
It is a far cry from pre-season when Atletico thrashed Real 7-3 and many were tipping them as serious challengers.
Zidane was under pressure then, but his team are on a relentless run, now 21 games unbeaten, the latest due in large part to his changes.
The decision to ditch a failing system and revert to 4-3-3, with Vinicuis Junior and Lucas Vazquez coming on for Isco and Toni Kroos, was both brave and effective.
Real’s form is impressive and they have Eden Hazard, out since November, on the brink of a return, perhaps on Thursday in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals against Real Sociedad.
Gareth Bale’s absence was not related to fitness. The Welshman was left out of the squad despite training for most of the week after an ankle injury.
Atletico were without the injured Kieran Trippier, meaning Sime Vrsaljko came in a right-back. January signing Yannick Carrasco was named on the bench, after rejoining from Dalian Yifang the day before.
Simeone’s side were significantly better in the first half and should have taken one of a handful of decent chances as Vitolo hit Thibaut Courtois, Saul Niguez flashed wide and Angel Correa poked past the post after going through one-on-one, even if he probably would have been called offside.
Real Madrid’s cluster of central midfielders looked unsure of their 4-3-2-1 shape. Fede Valverde looked particularly uncomfortable as he spent much of the first half as a right winger. Luka Modric was virtually anonymous in his more advanced role.
Zidane’s double change was a recognition of Atletico’s superiority as he reverted to the more familiar 4-3-3 with Modric deeper in midfield.
The balance shifted immediately. Real dominated the start of the second half.
In the 56th minute, Vinicius cut in from the left and slipped in the overlapping Ferland Mendy, whose cross to the back post gave Benzema a simple finish.
Atletico had been weakened shortly before when Alvaro Morata, perhaps the best player on the pitch in the first 45 minutes, went off with an injury. He was replaced by Thomas Lemar, whom Simeone expected to be sold in the January transfer window.
Real retreated a little, perhaps waiting for an Atletico push that never came.
Valverde enjoyed a spontaneous standing ovation for a burst forward, an appreciation too perhaps for his brilliant breakthrough season. Another roar of approval greeted the final whistle.