Zinedine Zidane says Real Madrid’s La Liga title chances do not depend on victory over local rivals Atletico Madrid in the derby on Saturday.
Both Real and Atletico have stumbled during the opening stages of the 2017-18 campaign, and are currently joint third in the table, eight points behind early pace-setters Barca, leading local pundits on both sides to argue that neither can afford to slip up any further in the title race.
However at the pregame news conferenced of his side’s first ever visit to Atletico’s new Wanda Metropolitano stadium, Zidane denied Madrid were now in the “last chance saloon.”
He said: “That does not exist. We do not want to slip again, we want to give our best. But we will have to see what happens. I recognise we are a long way behind Barcelona, but there is still time to catch them and pass them out. We can play better, for sure, and we will. We both [Real and Atletico] have the same points, so neither is in better or worse shape.”
Build-up to the game in Spain has featured a reported difference of opinion between captain Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo over whether the Madrid squad remains as strong as last season following the summer exits of backups including Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez and Pepe.
Zidane said that two experienced long-term teammates could hold separate viewpoints without it being an issue in the dressing room.
“These two players are part of the history of this club,” he said. “They respect each other a lot and are both intelligent people. They are together a long time, won a lot together, maybe sometimes if they disagree over something it is not important. Things are sorted inside, and there has been no problem between Cristiano and Sergio. It is good that players give their opinions, it shows they are alive.”
The poor goal-scoring form so far this La Liga season by Ronaldo and strike partner Karim Benzema was not something that had required his personal intervention, Zidane added.
“It is true that [their numbers] in La Liga are not normal, but they have been scoring in the Champions League,” he said. “There is no need to tell Karim and Cristiano they must train more, they do it naturally. And on the pitch they will have chances and in this moment they will score. I am sure.”
Zidane said that Croatia midfielder Luka Modric was fine to start on Saturday despite an issue at training on Thursday, while right-back Dani Carvajal returns following two months out with a chest problem.
“Luka had a scare yesterday, but trained normally today, and is ready to play,” he said. “Dani after a long time is ready, it was better to stay here during the break to prepare.”
Gareth Bale and Keylor Navas both remain sidelined, but Zidane said he expected both back soon.
“[Bale] is the most annoyed by [his latest injury setback],” he said. “It is not a big thing — after three or four days he will be back as good as ever. I hope next week he is fully recovered and good for the rest of the season. Keylor is better every day, already training with us. But I cannot say when he will play. I want him at 100 percent, so we will see day by day.”
Zidane said he did not want to discuss the fact that Madrid players including Ramos and Casemiro had welcomed the idea of Neymar swapping Paris Saint-Germain for the Bernabeu when talking to media during the international break.
“I just talk about my own players,” he said. “Neymar is very good, for sure, but I know I have the best players here. The dressing room the same. We focus on the squad we have today, everything else we will see in the future.”