MADRID, Feb 27, (AFP): Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane hailed the impact of Isco and Alvaro Morata off the bench as the European champions came from 2-0 down at Villarreal on Sunday to win 3-2.
Morata completed the comeback after Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo had hauled Madrid level to ensure Zidane’s men move back ahead of Barcelona at the top of La Liga.
Real hold a one-point lead over their title rivals, who won 2-1 at Atletico Madrid on Sunday, but also have a game in hand.
“They deserve (to play) more for sure,” Zidane said of the Spanish international duo.
“The did very well, they changed the game. In any case we will need every player between now and the end of the season.
“They are all up for it. It is a long season, but this shows that everyone is ready when they are called upon.
“With everything that happened today it was vitally important to get the three points.”
Real had suffered just their second league defeat of the season at Valencia in midweek.
And Zidane’s men looked well on course to suffer another reversal when Villarreal struck twice in six minutes early in the second-half through Manu Trigueros and Cedric Bakambu.
However, Zidane reacted immediately by introducing Isco for the more defensively minded Casemiro.
Having been outplayed for the opening hour, Madrid forced Villarreal onto the back foot and were rewarded when Bale’s header halved the arrears 25 minutes from time.
Ronaldo then smashed home a controversial penalty after Villarreal captain Bruno Soriano was harshly adjudged to have handled inside his own box.
And the comeback was complete when Morata, who only replaced Karim Benzema 13 minutes from time, powered home Marcelo’s cross six minutes later.
“At 2-0 down you have to change something,” added Zidane.
“It worked out well for us. It allowed us to camp much more in their half.”
Bale was making his first start for three months and was forced to play almost the full 90 minutes given the circumstances before hobbling off to be replaced by Lucas Vazquez a minute from time.
However, Zidane said the Welshman suffered just “a knock” and should be fine to feature against Las Palmas on Wednesday.
Villarreal ‘keeper Sergio Asenjo was not so fortunate as he appears to have suffered a fourth cruciate knee ligament injury of his career.
Asenjo, who has presided over La Liga’s best defence, went down after turning Benzema’s header to safety midway through the first-half.
“Asenjo seems to have torn his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his left knee. It’s a real shame,” said Villarreal coach Fran Escriba.
His absence proved vital as back-up ‘keeper Andres Fernandez let Morata’s header slip under his body for the winner.
Escriba had to watch that goal from the stands after being dismissed from the touchline for taking his protests over the penalty too far.
“The match was over for us after the penalty,” added Escriba. “We lost our focus”.