Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has said Gareth Bale is fit and ready to play against Unionistas de Salamanca on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey.
Bale was left out of the squad for Madrid’s win over Sevilla on Saturday and Zidane said after the match he had picked up a knock.
The Welshman trained with his teammates last week, after also missing the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia through illness.
It means Bale has not played for Real Madrid since January 4, when he started their 3-0 win away Getafe. He has not scored for his club since September 1.
Asked why Bale and James Rodriguez, who has hardly featured in the last two months, have “disappeared”, Zidane said: “They haven’t disappeared. They were both injured the other day. They are both ready to play.”
Real Madrid play in the last 32 of the Copa del Rey against Unionistas de Salamanca, the fan-owned club launched in 2013 after UD Salamanca went out of business.
Unionistas, who now play in Spain’s third tier, have faced problems preparing for the tie given their stadium at Las Pistas del Helmantico can hold 3,000 spectators, with only one stand and insufficient lighting.
The pitch is surrounded by an athletics track.
“All the players have started playing on pitches like this, me as well,” said Zidane, when it was suggested the pitch could cause Real Madrid problems.
“We are prepared both mentally and in a sporting sense as well because we know where we are going to play and we know what to expect.
“Perhaps it was 10 or 15 years ago but we have all played on pitches like this, in difficult situations. It will not be a problem for us.”
Zidane is likely to rest key players, with a trip to Real Valladolid to come in La Liga on Sunday and the Madrid derby against Atletico scheduled for the following weekend.
Zinedine Zidane insisted Saturday his key aim this season was to win La Liga with Real Madrid, but admitted they faced a thrilling challenge trying to outwit Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, who they meet in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Zidane, who has won three Champions Leagues as a coach compared to Guardiola’s two, described the Catalan as “the best coach in the world”.
The two sides meet in Madrid on February 26 before heading to Manchester for the second leg on March 17.
“It’ll be fabulous to play against him (Guardiola),” said Zidane, speaking ahead of Real’s game against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, their final Liga match ahead of the winter break.
“I respected him as a player and now as a coach. He’s the top coach in the world and has proved it throughout his career.”
Guardiola coached Barcelona to the 2009 and 2011 Champions League titles. He went on to win plaudits at Bayern Munich and City with domestic championships but has failed to land a third Champions League title.
“So it’ll be a pleasure for me and a pleasure for all of us to come up against him and his team,” said Zidane.
Real are currently level with Barcelona on 36 points on top of la Liga after their 0-0 draw on Wednesday. Athletic Bilbao are seventh, nine points behind.
“Bilbao is another rival and a different proposition. We will play them with all our energy, it’s the last game of the year.
“The league is our priority and we will fight for it all the way,” he said.
Zinedine Zidane has brushed off suggestions Real Madrid could be distracted by the upcoming Clasico when they play in-form Valencia in La Liga on Sunday.
Madrid face a difficult game at Mestalla, just three days before taking on Barcelona at Camp Nou in a match that could decide who goes top of the table.
But Zidane’s team cannot afford to underestimate Valencia, who have registered three consecutive victories, including one away at Ajax on Tuesday that secured qualification for the Champions League last 16 as group winners.
Valencia sit eighth, while Barcelona and Madrid are level on points in first and second respectively.
Asked about the Clasico, Zidane said in a press conference on Saturday: “I’m not thinking about that at all and I include everyone who works here at the club in that.
“Our only concern is tomorrow’s game. The rest may be close but at the same time it’s far away. Tomorrow’s game has all my energy and about Wednesday, I’m not interested.”
After Barcelona, Real Madrid play at home to Athletic Bilbao, to complete a tough week before La Liga’s Christmas break.
Zidane admits it will be “difficult not to rotate” in the three fixtures and it remains to be seen whether Gareth Bale is given some minutes against Valencia, after he was left on the bench against Club Brugge on Wednesday.
Bale has just recovered from a thigh injury sustained earlier this month. “The other day Gareth didn’t play but he is here and I am counting on him,” Zidane said. “The important thing is he is available and ready.”
Zidane also has a dilemna over whether to select Casemiro against Valencia, given the Brazilian will be suspended for the game against Barca if he picks up a yellow card.
Madrid are short of other options in defensive midfield.
“I have to pick a starting line-up thinking only about tomorrow’s game – if I think about Wednesday, that would be a mistake,” said Zidane.
“I always talk with the players because I’m interested in the feelings they all have. And with Casemiro, it’s the same. We know his importance and what he gives to the team.”
Ferland Mendy is banned against Valencia and Marcelo is out with a calf injury, meaning Nacho Fernandez or Eder Militao are likely to fill in at left-back.
James Rodriguez trained alone on Saturday as he continues his recovery from a knee problem and will not be ready this weekend. Eden Hazard (ankle), Lucas Vazquez (toe) and Marco Asensio (cruciate ligament) are all out.
Zinedine Zidane has admitted he feels irritated by the criticism of him as Real Madrid coach as his side prepare for their crunch Champions League game away at Galatasaray on Tuesday.
Madrid head to Turkey in desperate need of a victory after one point taken from two games has left them sitting bottom of Group A and facing a fight to make the last 16.
A surprise league defeat by newly-promoted Real Mallorca on Saturday has put the pressure back on Zidane, who led Madrid to three consecutive Champions League triumphs in his first spell in charge at the club.
“Football forgets what you’ve done in the past, that’s life,” Zidane said at a press conference in Istanbul on Monday.
“And for me it’s the same, it’s all about the present. The past is the past.
“I’m not going to tell you that what they say doesn’t bother me because it bothers me but I can’t prevent people giving their opinions. This is a big game in a big stadium and we know the situation.”
Eden Hazard is available again after missing the game against Mallorca following the birth of his fourth child and Toni Kroos is also in the squad after recovering from injury.
But Gareth Bale and Luka Modric have not travelled as they are still suffering from calf and thigh problems respectively.
Some reports in Spain have even suggested Zidane could be sacked if Madrid fail to deliver on Tuesday.
“I don’t know, you have to ask other people about that,” Zidane said. “I want to be here forever but the situation can change.”
Despite their bumpy start, Madrid’s loss to Mallorca was their first in La Liga this season as they sit second in the table, one point behind Barcelona.
“Everyone knows that the squad is with Zidane to the death, no matter what,” said captain Sergio Ramos.
“We have to show we are a united team and one that continues to trust its coach. Madrid always responds and the way to do it is together.”
Jose Mourinho has again been mentioned as a potential successor to Zidane.
“We only think about winning tomorrow, nothing else and not what certain people claim,” Ramos said. “It is true the measuring stick is sometimes different depending on what it measures.”
Ramos added: “It would be easy to say Zidane will stay until the end of the season and there would be no arguments. I know that rumours are interesting for the press but talking about possible coaches is tedious.”
Zidane said nothing surprises him about the pressure he is under. “It’s always like that,” he said. “I’ve spent 18 years here and the same thing happened to me as a player.
“I know where we are and that there is going to be pressure. The only thing is to prepare for the game but whatever happens tomorrow is not going to change anything.”
Galatasaray also have one point in the group after they drew away at Club Brugge and lost at home to Paris Saint-Germain.
Zinedine Zidane believes he has the backing of Real Madrid but admits he would leave if he ever felt he had lost the club’s support.
Zidane has come under scrutiny after enduring his worst ever defeat as Madrid coach on Wednesday, a 3-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
The result also followed an underwhelming start in La Liga, which has seen Madrid claim two wins and two draws from games against Celta Vigo, Real Valladolid, Villarreal and Levante.
After returning from Paris, Zidane gave his players the day off on Thursday, which surprised those high up at the club, according to reports in the Spanish press.
Asked if he felt like his methods were being questioned, Zidane said in a press conference on Friday: “No, not at all, the opposite. I think the club helps us all to be strong and supports all the people that work here.
“If it’s ever not like that it would probably be best to leave.”
On his decision to give the players a day off, Zidane added: “It’s not a question of whether they deserve it or not. We have to give them time off.
“They need time with their families, they have to be able to rest. We have seven games in 21 days. They need time away and I understand that.”
Madrid face La Liga’s early frontrunners Sevilla on Sunday, when Zidane will be hoping for a response after his side’s miserable performance in midweek.
Since Zidane returned as coach in March, Madrid have won seven, drawn four and lost five of their matches in all competitions.
Asked if he regrets coming back, Zidane said: “No, that’s easy to answer. It would be easy to say yes in what is a difficult time but it wouldn’t be true. I’m happy to be back and to start again.
“It’s a difficult time at the moment but all I’m going to do is work harder and try to put things right. We all have to try to be together, united.
“When I hear all these questions, it makes everything seem gloomy but when you win everything changes. Things look ugly at the moment but you have to keep working.”
Jose Mourinho is the favourite to succeed Zidane and the Portugese has hardly kept a low-profile in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, Mourinho attended a press event in Madrid, where he said his time at the Santiago Bernabeu had been his “best experience” as a coach.
“I know how it works,” Zidane said. “It’s not about whether it bothers me or doesn’t bother me. If you lose, things have to change. Things are difficult now but that’s the reality.”
Zidane is boosted by the return of midfielder Fede Valverde for Sunday’s game at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium but Luka Modric and Isco are out with thigh and hamstring injuries respectively, while Marcelo has a back problem. Marco Asensio is a long-term absentee with a knee injury.
Zinedine Zidane returned to save Real Madrid and the time has come for results.
In a packed-out press conference under the Santiago Bernabeu in March, the club’s president Florentino Perez delivered the grandest of re-introductions.
“We need to start working on a glorious new era,” said Perez. “That is why we welcome back Zinedine Zidane.”
Some might have expected a bounce but nobody blamed the coach when performances continued to drag and the gap behind Barcelona, rather than narrowing, widened.
Zidane took over a team with nothing to play for and a squad he knew was in need of reform. He knew because he had left it nine months earlier, just before it was broken.
There was no quick fix. In his 11 games at the end of last season, Madrid won five, the only promise of progress the words Zidane kept repeating. “Things will change, for sure,” he said.
Zidane denied it but they were seen as trials, every line-up scanned for clues as to who would survive the summer.
Yet in some ways, none of it mattered and the results, not to mention attendances at the Santiago Bernabeu, said as much. “The best thing for us is that it’s over,” said Zidane, after the season ended in defeat.
And now it begins again, the season, and Zidane’s second era as a coach.
Many wondered why he came back, risking everything after the perfection of three Champions League titles out of three.
The assumption was he returned to a stronger hand, able to make demands the club were ready to meet and with the backing to rebuild in the way he had always wanted.
He might have been encouraged too when Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy, Luka Jovic, Rodrygo and Eden Hazard all signed for a total close to 300 million euros.
Hazard was the headline act, a throw-back to a previous era that Zidane knew well when the world’s most glamorous players seemed to walk through the doors every year.
“I’m not a galactico, not yet, but I hope I will be one day,” said Hazard when he joined.
But Madrid’s pockets are not as deep as they once were and sales were also needed, by the club and their coach.
Zidane showed no inclination to make soothe and use Gareth Bale, instead urging the Welshman to make a move to China.
“It is very close,” Zidane said. “We hope he leaves soon, it would be best for everyone.”
Bale’s agent told AFP Zidane was a “disgrace” and if the Frenchman had hoped to push the deal over the line, he would be disappointed as Madrid changed their mind over the fee.
James Rodriguez is also yet to leave and there were others that proved more difficult to bring in such as Paul Pogba and even Neymar.
In other areas, Zidane has resisted change, backing experience over youth even if many believed experience last season had turned into apathy.
Marcelo, Casemiro and Keylor Navas have stayed while Marcos Llorente was allowed to join Atletico Madrid and Sergio Reguilon and Dani Ceballos were both sent out on loan.
For all the talk of upheaval, Madrid’s line-up against Celta Vigo on Saturday is likely to have a distinctly familiar feel.
Yet there could be a new formation, with a 3-5-2 tried after some underwhelming showings in pre-season, allowing Marcelo and Dani Carvajal greater freedom as wing-backs and Hazard to play centrally behind Karim Benzema.
And a shift in focus. Madrid have won La Liga only once in the last seven years, their failures in Spain excused only by unprecedented success in Europe.
“For us next year, the league must be our number one priority,” Zidane said in April.
In that sense, Madrid might profit if Barcelona aim their focus at the Champions League. But the Catalans and Atletico Madrid have both strengthened and look ready to challenge again.
“La Liga is the longest competition, it’s the one that cannot be missed,” Zidane said. “I’m going to drill that in the heads of my players.” His players. Now they have to deliver.
Gareth Bale’s stand-off with Real Madrid continued on Wednesday after the forward was left out of Zinedine Zidane’s squad to face Red Bull Salzburg in a friendly.
Bale has only played in two of Real Madrid’s five pre-season games so far, coming on as a substitute against Arsenal and Atletico Madrid, and has now been left out completely for the third fixture in a row.
James Rodriguez and Mariano Diaz, who are both expected to be sold, were also not included for the match in Austria.
Zidane has made clear that Bale is not in his plans as he looks to rejuvenate Real Madrid following their miserable season last term.
The club are keen to sign Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, with Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen and Ajax youngster Donny van de Beek potential alternatives.
But Madrid first need to raise funds, after already spending around 300 million euros ($336 million) this summer.
Zidane said last month that Bale being sold would be “best for everyone”, while Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett told AFP: “Zidane is a disgrace – he shows no respect for a player that has done so much for Real Madrid.”
Bale is in no rush to leave the Santiago Bernabeu, where he has a contract until 2022, worth around 18 million euros a year.
He agreed to terms with Chinese Super League club Jiangsu Suning last month but the move was called off after Madrid failed to agree to a fee for the 30-year-old.
Bayern Munich retain interest but any deal would be hugely expensive, making it increasingly likely Bale will remain at Madrid for the start of the La Liga season next weekend.