MADRID: After a topsy-turvy campaign and a "tragic" week which saw their hopes of any silverware disappear, Real Madrid were all smiles again at the Bernabeu after Zinedine Zidane's return as coach was celebrated with a 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday.
"Happiness has returned to the dressing room and that's the most important thing," Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas told reporters.
"The past is the past, the group is working well. I don't know if we needed a change or not but the club thought it was necessary. "Zidane has spoken to each one of individually and now we need to be professionals and work hard."
Isco gave Real a deserved lead in the second half in the Madrid sunshine and Gareth Bale further raised spirits by sealing victory later in the game.
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Along with Isco and defender Marcelo, the Costa Rican Navas was one of the main beneficiaries of Zidane's return 10 months after the Frenchman had walked out on the club having won an unprecedented three consecutive Champions League crowns.
Navas, Real's number one in each of those triumphs, had been relegated to second choice with the signing of Thibaut Courtois and had only made three league starts before getting the nod ahead of the Belgian against Celta.
"I had not played for a very long time so I'm happy, we'll see what happens in the future," Navas added.
"The most important thing is I worked very hard to get an opportunity and today I got one." Real defender Alvaro Odriozola also spoke of a change in atmosphere with the return of Zidane, who is Real's third coach Real of the season after the sacking of Julen Lopetegui in October and Santiago Solari last Monday.
Solari won his final game in charge of Real last week at Valladolid but his fate had already been sealed by two defeats to Barcelona and the humiliating 4-1 loss to Ajax Amsterdam which ended the team's iron grip on the Champions League.
"We are all very excited, we have renewed hope after that tragic week," said Odriozola. "We have to look to the future, end this season with honour and try to win the remaining 10 games. We have to stay focused on competing and not thinking about who is playing or who isn't. Instead, we all need to give 100 percent."
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Midfielder Dani Ceballos added: "It looks like us changing our coach worked. We have recovered some sensations we had lost and we have got the three points. Now our objective is to win all the games left and finish the season as well as possible."
Atletico title hopes hit by limp defeat at Bilbao
Atletico Madrid's faint La Liga title hopes suffered a setback with a 2-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday which could leave them 10 points behind leaders Barcelona by the end of the weekend. Bilbao forward Inaki Williams put the home side in front in the 73rd minute, guiding the ball into an empty net after Atletico's Jose Gimenez had given the ball away in his own half.
Kenan Kodro sealed the win for Athletic five minutes from time with a shot which took a huge deflection off Gimenez, piling more pain on Atletico four days after they were knocked out of the Champions League by Juventus. Atletico are second in the standings on 56 points while Barca have 63 and can increase their advantage at the top when they visit Real Betis on Sunday.
Atletico had failed to muster a shot on target in Tuesday's 3-0 defeat by Juventus which sent them out 3-2 on aggregate but the return of Diego Costa led to coach Diego Simeone fielding an exciting attacking trident of Costa, Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata. They were denied a penalty when Griezmann was tripped by Yeray Alvarez but that was the only moment of danger from the visitors in an even first half in which Athletic also had a penalty appeal turned down for handball by Saul Niguez.
The breakthrough came when Gimenez was robbed in possession by Inigo Cordoba, who played a one-two with Raul Garcia before taking a shot which was destined to go past the far post until Williams arrived to tuck the ball in.
After Kodro had doubled Bilbao's advantage, Atletico had a chance to pull a goal back in the final minute when midfielder Rodri headed the ball down in the area but Morata somehow missed the target from close range. Simeone thought his side were still feeling the effects of their collapse against Juventus.
"After the bad performance we gave in Turin we struggled to get going and we couldn't create chances," Simeone said. "The second half was different, we showed we wanted to win but they were clinical with the chances they created."
The Argentine would not be drawn on whether the title race was over. "We are used to fighting on and competing but this is a moment for us to sit back, observe and try to grow," he said.
"We are in a privileged position in the league after seven good months and we hope to stay that way. We're used to fighting for trophies until the end, now we are slipping away from Barcelona, but it was not easy after what happened in Turin."
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