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Real Madrid needs to use dominant Apoel win to build La Liga momentum

Real Madrid needs to use dominant Apoel win to build La Liga momentum
From ESPN - November 23, 2017

Victory by a six-goal margin is generally an end in itself. Particularly when that victory comes in an away match in the Champions League. Yet the significance of Real Madrid's 6-0 drubbing of Apoel on Tuesday evening goes beyond its implications for the final standings in Group H.

A clear gap already had formed in Madrid's Champions League group before this round of midweek fixtures. Los Blancos shared the upper tier with Tottenham Hotspur. Borussia Dortmund and Apoel languished below. Qualification to the knockout stages of the competition was more or less assured ahead of the trip to Cyprus, even if it is in second place behind Mauricio Pochettino's outfit.

Madrid's position in the Primera Division is rather more precarious. Barcelona have propelled themselves to the top of the table through a combination of Ernesto Valverde's pragmatism and Lionel Messi's brilliance. They squint downwards from a distance of 10 points. Marcelino's resurgent Valencia are in second place, four points behind Barcelona, and six ahead of Madrid.

So it is in domestic competition that Madrid have work to do. A lot of it. They need the defeat of Apoel to mean more than three points and progression to the next round of the Champions League. They need that result in Nicosia to catalyse a reaction in La Liga.

Zinedine Zidane's team selection signaled that he viewed the match as an opportunity to inflate floundering players with confidence. The 45-year-old included the big names in his squad. Cristiano Ronaldo and the perpetually maligned Karim Benzema started in attack. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric retained the centre of the pitch, despite clamour for the inclusion of Dani Ceballos. All four players were under pressure to perform well and vindicate the team selection. They did so.

Neither Benzema nor Ronaldo had scored a goal in La Liga since the last-gasp victory at Getafe beneath the glow of the mid-October sun. Their two goals apiece in Cyprus were very timely.

"I am delighted for them," Zidane glowed in the post-match news conference, "we knew that this [bad run of form] was going to pass. Now they have to keep working to continue like this."

That last sentence is important. Zidane's comment leaves a cavernous space for reading between the lines. He was congratulatory, but he laced his statement with an implicit expectation that the pair now will build upon their performances. Zidane is considered when facing the press. He is not the type to make throwaway comments. Benzema made a beeline for the dugout after scoring his first goal on Tuesday evening. He exchanged a warm high-five with Zidane.

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