- Associated Press - Thursday, January 7, 2016

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Zinedine Zidane will make his coaching debut on Saturday when Real Madrid hosts Deportivo La Coruna in the Spanish league.

The former France great was promoted from managing Madrid’s reserve team, which plays in the third division, to taking over for Rafa Benitez after the Spaniard was fired following Madrid’s 2-2 draw at Valencia last weekend.

A fan favorite from his five seasons at Madrid, a warm welcome is expected for Zidane by the Santiago Bernabeu crowd. Disgruntled fans had called for Benitez to be fired following the team’s inconsistent form that has Madrid in third place, four points off provisional leader Atletico Madrid.

“The important thing is to keep the players’ spirits high, I think they’ve done a good job,” Zidane said at his first news conference on Tuesday. “We have to think that the work done by Benitez has been good and I want to wish him all the best for the future. My message is work.”

Barcelona, in second and two points adrift and with a game in hand, will have played earlier on Saturday at Camp Nou against Granada. Atletico waits until Sunday in a tough visit to fifth-place Celta Vigo.

Here are some things to know about this weekend’s Spanish league games:



Zidane etched his place in Madrid’s lore with his unique combination of dribbling, passing and scoring skills, which reached its pinnacle when he scored a spectacular volley for the winning goal in the 2002 Champions League final.

He now must quiet those who question president Florentino Perez’s decision to turn the star-studded squad over to a coach whose resume is limited to a year and a half in the third division and a stint as a first-team assistant.

Zidane has promised to promote an “attractive, but balanced” style, and said that he will maintain the trio of strikers formed by Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.

“I want to bring the exciting game that this club has always had,” Zidane said. “The important thing is to play football and my job will be based on playing from the back, progressing in to the opposition half quickly and having possession of the ball.”

Besides who will start among the glut of midfielders, the question is whether Zidane will keep Bale on the right side of the attack, as opposed to his natural place on the left, after Benitez scrapped his experiment to use him as a central playmaker.



It has been a long time since Deportivo inspired fear in its opponents. But striker Lucas Perez, with 12 goals, and an overachieving bunch coached by former Madrid player Victor Sanchez del Amo has made Deportivo a formidable foe.

Seventh-place Deportivo has as many losses as Madrid does - three - and rallied for a 2-2 draw at Barcelona last month.

“With Zidane there will be a change and they will have the support of the Bernabeu,” Perez said. “They will start strong with the new coach, to show that they have their place on the team and are motivated to win.”



Lionel Messi will get another opportunity to shine against a struggling Granada two days before he is favored to win a record fifth FIFA Ballon d’Or award.

One thing is certain, the recognition for the world’s best player will remain in the Spanish league, with Ronaldo and Neymar the other finalists at Monday’s gala in Zurich.



Atletico has risen to the top on the strength of its defense anchored by goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who has conceded a league-low eight goals. Malaga is second with 14.

But coach Diego Simeone is still looking for strikers Jackson Martinez and Fernando Torres to rediscover their scoring touch.

Torres has been stuck on 99 career goals for Atletico since Sept. 19, a scoring drought of 19 straight appearances, while Jackson hasn’t scored in three games since returning from injury. The Colombia striker has only three goals since transferring from FC Porto last year.

Celta has lost two straight in the league and will have one day less to prepare for the match with a Copa del Rey game against Cadiz on Thursday. Atletico played on Wednesday, drawing 1-1 at Rayo Vallecano.

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