Zinedine Zidane insisted his decision to drop Gareth Bale from the Real Madrid squad for his side’s 3-2 victory over Villarreal was not made to send a message to the Welsh forward.
Bale was a glaring omission from a Madrid squad already missing injured striker Karim Benzema, but Zidane saw Mariano Diaz score twice to help Los Blancos bounce back from a 1-0 reverse at Rayo Vallecano in their previous game.
Manchester United are rumoured to be planning a swoop for Bale’s signature at the end of the season, but Zidane has consistently refused to comment on the 29-year-old’s future at Santiago Bernabeu.
Asked why Bale was dropped, Zidane stopped short of giving a clear explanation.
“It is not a message,” he said. “You can interpret what you want. I have to make a list of players, and someone has to stay out.
“I’m the coach and I have to make a list. Nothing else.”
Zidane reserved praise for Mariano, who took his LaLiga goal tally to three in three starts for Madrid this season.
“Of course he has not had many opportunities, because he was injured for a long time,” said Zidane.
“But Mariano had the opportunity to play, he scored two and I’m happy for him.”
There were also warm words for teenage midfielder Brahim Diaz, whose quick thinking created the opening for Mariano to score after just two minutes.
“I will not talk about the next season, but I will about the performance of Brahim,” said Zidane.
“I like that he goes straight to the opposing goal when he gets the ball. He always wants to look for spaces.
“And there’s the first goal, with pressure after loss of the ball, which made it phenomenal.
“They lose the ball and he recovers it. I’m happy with his performance.”