By Tales Azzoni ,AP
MADRID — Zinedine Zidane’s head-coaching career got off to a winning start as Real Madrid defeated Deportivo La Coruna 5-0 in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Gareth Bale had a hat trick and Karim Benzema scored twice, including with a back-heel flick.
Zidane received a warm welcome at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, with fans loudly cheering the former galactico before and after the game. It was a completely different atmosphere compared to when Rafa Benitez was in charge. Benitez was jeered in nearly every game since a demoralizing 4-0 home loss to Barcelona in November, a result that ignited a crisis at the Spanish giant.
“The fans were behind the team from the first minute until the end. It was a great atmosphere,” Zidane said. “But we have to understand that this was only the first game, we have to keep winning. The goal is to keep playing well and keep winning games.”
Real Madrid moved to within two points of Barcelona, which earlier defeated Granada 4-0 with a hat trick by Lionel Messi and a goal by Neymar.
Third-place Atletico Madrid was one point behind Barcelona and can regain the lead when it plays at fifth-place Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Barcelona will have a game in hand after the 19th round this weekend.
Zidane, who thrived at Madrid until retiring in 2006, stepped up from Madrid’s B team when Benitez was fired this week after seven months on the job.
“It means a lot to me to be here,” Zidane said. “I want to enjoy this win.”
Benzema opened the scoring by using his back heel to redirect Sergio Ramos’ shot off a corner, then Bale headed in a cross from Dani Carvajal seven minutes later, and found the net from close range after a cross by Cristiano Ronaldo to open the second half. Bale’s third goal was another header, and Benzema’s second came in the game’s last play.
Ronaldo’s best opportunity was when he struck the post with a first-half header.