Thursday 22 March 2018

Zinedine Zidane refuses to discuss David de Gea and backs out-of-sorts Cristiano Ronaldo

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo has not been in his usual high-scoring form
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo has not been in his usual high-scoring form

Zinedine Zidane has backed Cristiano Ronaldo to fire his side back into title contention against struggling Espanyol on Sunday.

Ronaldo drew a blank in last Sunday's disappointing 1-1 draw at strugglers Real Betis which left Zidane's men four points adrift of Barcelona and city rivals Atletico.

It was the latest below-par performance from the Portuguese star and it also marked the first setback of Zidane's early managerial career after starting his reign with back-to-back thumpings of Deportivo La Coruna and Sporting Gijon respectively.

But Zidane sprung to the defence of his out-of-sorts superstar, telling a press conference: "He (Ronaldo) hasn't lost his goalscoring ability - he hasn't lost anything.

"He is happy with the work he's doing - training has been lighter than normal so that the team will be fresh for tomorrow, but we are in good shape physically and I have no worries about the quality."

ZIdane received a boost this week with the news that FIFA had suspended the club's recent transfer ban - meaning there could still be time to add new faces before the end of the transfer window.

However despite renewed rumours, in particular concerning Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea, Zidane sought to shrug off speculation and focus solely on the visit of Espanyol.

He added: "I'd prefer to avoid any unnecessary hassle - the only thing I am concerned about is tomorrow's match. Later we will see what happens and whether we can or can't sign anyone."

Zidane is hampered again on Sunday by the absence of Gareth Bale due to a calf injury, so James Rodriguez will once more get the chance to step in and prove his worth despite a disappointing show against Betis.

Zidane insisted he would not be adversely affected by his first managerial disappointment, which reduces Real's chances of overhauling Barcelona, who have a game in hand.

Asked whether the Betis draw had affected morale, he insisted: "Quite the opposite - it is complicated when you drop two points because you want to win all your games.

"Considering what we did, we deserved more than a point but in football you have got to put away your chances and our work this week has gone really well."

Real will once again be expected to pull off a big win against Sunday's struggling opponents, who are on a seven-game winless streak in all competitions.

However they showed some signs of fight last Sunday when they ended a four-game losing run with a 2-2 draw at home to Villarreal.

Espanyol boss Constantin Galca told the club's official website: "We can not compare ourselves with them, but we must be eager and very organised.

"We have prepared in the week with hard work, enthusiasm and with clear ideas and we will fight."

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