Madrid (AFP) – Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane accepted responsibility for a bruising 3-0 El Clasico defeat on Saturday that left the European champions 14 points adrift of Barcelona at the top of La Liga on Saturday.
However, the Frenchman insisted Madrid will come back stronger in the new year after La Liga’s winter break and refused to concede the league to Barca.
“We are down because it is a defeat that hurts,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
“Madrid never give up, whatever happens. It is a difficult moment because we’ve lost by three goals. I could say we don’t deserve it, but that is football.”
Defeat leaves Madrid still down in fourth with Barca now nine points clear of their closest challengers Atletico Madrid.
Zidane took the surprise decision to start Mateo Kovacic for the first time in La Liga this season to try negate the threat of Lionel Messi as the Croatian had so successfully when Real thrashed Barca 5-1 in the Spanish Super Cup on aggregate in August.
However, after Madrid missed a host of first-half chances, Kovacic was powerless to stop Messi wrestling control of the game as the Argentine netted from the penalty spot after Luis Suarez’s opener and then teed up Aleix Vidal for Barca’s third in stoppage time
“Tomorrow they are going to hammer me, that is football but it won’t change how I think or what I do,” added Zidane.
“I am the coach and I will continue like this as long as I am here.”
Any chance of a Real recovery after Suarez’s opener was dented as Dani Carvajal also saw a red card for punching the ball off the goal line before Messi’s spot-kick.
– Ronaldo miskick –
“The first goal comes from an error by us and the sending-off completely changes the complexion of the game,” added Zidane.
“Playing with 10 men 2-0 down is very difficult both mentally and physically.”
A 3-0 defeat is also Zidane’s heaviest since he took charge of Real nearly two years ago.
However, there didn’t appear to be such a margin between the sides in the first 45 minutes as Madrid dominated.
Cristiano Ronaldo miskicked with the goal at his mercy after just 10 minutes and Karim Benzema hit the post just before half-time.
“They pressed us very high and it forced us to play long,” said Barca boss Ernesto Valverde.
“We couldn’t play as we are used to. It was an open game with no side in command, but in the second-half we managed to impose our control on the game.”