Clubs, Real Madrid, Spanish Primera División, Story, UEFA Champions League


Steve Nicol slams Zinedine Zidane’s comments on Real Madrid’s title chances after a scoreless Madrid derby.
Zinedine Zidane insists Real Madrid can close the 10-point gap with Barcelona, saying Barca won’t win every match.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said that although others outside the club might be “worried” by his team’s form, he remains convinced that they will come good again by the end of the season.

Double Champions League holders Madrid have just one point from their last two Group H outings, at home and away against Tottenham, but can still ensure progress to the last 16 with a win in Tuesday’s game at APOEL Nicosia.

Stumbles in La Liga this season have had more serious consequences, with Zidane’s side now 10 points behind leaders Barcelona — a lead never before made up in Spanish football history.

The former galactico told the pregame news conference in Cyprus that nothing could shake the faith he had in players who had come through previous sticky moments to triumph before.

“I enjoy what I am doing, and will always be positive,” Zidane said. “There are other jobs people have which are not easy. Whatever happens, I am convinced by the resources we have. This is a moment of the season, like last year, when some can be worried. But not me, never.”

Out-of-form forwards Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo have taken much of the flak from local pundits following Saturday’s 0-0 draw against neighbours Atletico Madrid. Zidane said his fellow Frenchman knew he could give more, but he and the team in general were playing well and they just needed their luck to change in front of goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo during Real Madrid's La Liga fixture against Atletico Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s struggles have not gone unnoticed by Real Madrid fans and media.

“[Benzema] is the first who wants to give more,” he said. “He knows he can give more. But we are here, and me first, to help all my players, not just Karim. We are doing better, all of us. In our play we are not bad, we are improving. But we need to score one, or two, and then the run changes. Tomorrow we hope it is a game to change this.”

Another talking point around the Bernabeu since Saturday has been the lack of playing time given to promising youngsters like Dani Ceballos, who have not had the chance to provide the same impact as last year’s more established back-ups like Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez.

“I talk to the [younger players], and make sure they know the situation,” Zidane said. “They are very young. But they can look at the path of Marco Asensio. He played less last season, more this year. Ceballos will be the same — he has an extraordinary future. As do [Marcos] Llorente, Achraf [Hakimi], all those who play less. This is a step they must take, it is normal they play less than the senior players. But Dani and the others have a future in this team.”

Club captain Sergio Ramos is out of Tuesday’s game due to a fractured nose picked up against Atletico, while Gareth Bale and Keylor Navas remain sidelined with niggling problems.

Asked whether he would like to add more options to his squad in the January window, Zidane preferred to focus on the test which APOEL would provide.

“We can talk about that when the time comes,” he said. “What I am worried about is tomorrow’s game, and to play with the squad we have. It will not be an easy game tomorrow, they are doing well in this CL and we must be very focused and determined, and just think about tomorrow’s game. We know what is on the line tomorrow.”

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan



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