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Wednesday 18. September 2019 - 17:21

Zidane puts faith in James Rodriguez & Gareth Bale for Champions League return as Real Madrid storm calms

The Champions League is back and Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane already seems more relaxed than before.

With the transfer window closed, Zidane can focus solely on football now and put a stressful summer behind him.

Results in pre-season were poor, while Zidane also suffered personal tragedy with the loss of his brother and in the transfer market, he was left frustrated as Paul Pogba did not arrive and two players he had expected to sell, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale, ended up staying.

James had moved to Bayern Munich on a two-season loan because he could not get a game when everyone was fit in Zidane's first spell in charge, while Bale was frozen out at the end of last season and the Frenchman said in July that the best thing would be for the Welsh winger to leave "imminently".

In the end, president Florentino Perez blocked the departure of both: in Bale's case because Chinese Super League side Jiansu Suning had not offered a fee and the club chief was not prepared to let him leave for free; and with James because of Marco Asensio's long-term injury and uneasiness at the prospect at strengthening a rival (Atletico) that had just thrashed Los Blancos 7-3 in pre-season.

Another reason for keeping the two players was because of doubts over Zidane's future at the club, despite the fact he was only brought back by Perez with Madrid in a sticky situation last March.

Zidane was told he had better make it work with both Bale and James and the two have become important again. In fact, they have been two of Real's best players at the start of this season.

Bale scored twice in the 2-2 draw at Villarreal prior to the international break, including a late leveller to rescue a point at the Estadio de la Ceramica, while James was instrumental in Los Blancos' 3-2 win over Levante at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

"He has given us titles and has scored lots of goals in finals," Casemiro said of Bale after the 3-1 win at Celta Vigo last month. "We have a lot of respect for him and what he has done. If he is here, he has to play."

And he is playing. Bale started Madrid's first three games of the season and only sat out on Saturday due to suspension. In that match, James made his second appearance of the season, having only just returned from injury.

"Ever since the first day he came back, he is really switched on," Lucas Vazquez said of the Colombian afterwards. "With the quality and motivation he has, he will help us a lot."

With a number of players out through injury, including Isco and Luka Modric, James is one of only three fit midfielders and the 28-year-old is therefore certain to start at the Parc des Princes.

"He can play in many positions," Zidane said of James on Tuesday. "The further forward he is, the easier it is for him. We will see tomorrow. The important thing is that he's in good shape. The position can change a lot with me."

Even Zidane had said on Saturday that the Colombian was "motivated", something he did not necessarily think the first time around, when he left the playmaker on the bench in the Champions League final in Milan and then cut him from the squad altogether for the showpiece versus Juventus in Cardiff the following season.

Bale too is important again and Wednesday should see a new trident in action for the first time as the Welshman lines up alongside Karim Benzema and summer signing Eden Hazard.

"BBH, I like that," Zidane joked when the new acronym was put to him by a journalist in the pre-match press conference.

With James and Bale back on board, the Frenchman returns to the competition he has never lost as a coach (with three straight titles between 2016 and 2018, plus one as assistant to Carlo Ancelotti in 2014).

The summer storm is over, the uncertainty and poor results from pre-season in the past now and the transfer window closed. Zidane is a happier man for all that as he gets to concentrate on football again. And everyone at the club will be hoping his special relationship with the Champions League can inspire some more magic this time around.

Provided by: Frank Henriksen
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