Real Madrid must hold their nerve in the La Liga title run-in coach Zinedine Zidane warned on Tuesday ahead of the catch up game against Celta Vigo.
Real are level on 87 points with bitter rivals Barcelona but because Barca enjoy a better head-to-head record Zidane’s charges need four points from their two remaining ties with Vigo and Malaga at the weekend.
“We don’t feel like champions. We’re not going to relax. We’ve not won anything yet,” Zidane told a press conference.
“It’ll be difficult because Celta are a good team. We know that they’re a good opponent and it’ll be difficult, just like it was against Sevilla and will be against Malaga.”
“I can assure you we need to maintain our focus,” he said also confirming that Cristiano Ronaldo would only join the Vigo action if needed.
“He’ll be with us (for Wednesday’s game)s,” Zidane confirmed.
“Isco, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lucas Vazquez will play if they have to. They’ll do their best not to get a card. You have to be positive,” he said.
Real also face a date with Juventus in the Champions League final in 18 days time where they will hope to have their lynchpin Ronaldo firing on all pistons.
The French coach was asked if he thought he was appreciated by the giant Spanish club.
“I think everyone is happy with me and that’s it. Right now I’m not thinking about the future. Right now I’m not worried. When I get in to the changing room I enjoy everything that I see and do, nobody will take that away from me,” he said.
Zinedine Zidane has confirmed Gareth Bale is still absent for Real Madrid’s home meeting with Sevilla on Sunday, placing the Welsh star’s availability for the Champions League final in further jeopardy.
Although there are still three weeks until the big showdown with Juventus in Bale’s hometown of Cardiff, the former Tottenham man has been missing since last month with a calf injury and Zidane would be reluctant to risk him unless he proves his fitness in one of Madrid’s three remaining league games.
That prospect currently looks remote, with the French boss striking a far from encouraging tone as he revealed: “We are taking it day by day with Gareth.
“He is not back with us yet and still has some problems. I don’t know when he’ll be back but I hope it will be soon.”
Another player absent through injury today is Pepe, meaning that the veteran Portuguese defender has probably already played his last game at the Bernabeu ahead of his expected departure from the club this summer.
The 33 year-old will be out of contract and although his future has not been confirmed, it is thought to lie away from Madrid amid reports of big-money offers from clubs in China, the United States and Italy.
And Zidane hinted that Pepe’s time with the club is indeed coming to an end, saying: “He’s had a tremendous career.
“He’s been here for ten years and done fantastic things. I don’t know what he’ll do next year because I’m only thinking about this game, and he won’t play because he’s bothered by pain in his ribs.”
After today Madrid’s remaining league games will be played away from home, with Wednesday’s trip to Celta Vigo followed by a season finale at Malaga next weekend.
If Zidane’s team collect seven points from those three games they will definitely be champions, but despite the proximity of the prize the French coach confirmed he will continue his long-standing rotation policy by making several changes from the team which started against Atletico in midweek.
One player who could be rested is forward Karim Benzema, whose brilliant piece of skill to tee up Isco’s tie-winning goal against Atletico has been showered with lavish praise in the last few days.
The Frenchman has been criticised for his lack of goals in a season which has seen him register just nine league goals in 27 appearances, but Zidane made it clear that he focuses on his compatriot’s other qualities.
“I’m more interested in how he associates play with his teammates, because we’ve got a lot of other players who can score goals,” Zidane said.
“I didn’t need to see the Atletico game to know what a great player he is.”
After being teased by the football gods that a miraculous comeback might just be possible, Atletico Madrid once again had their dreams snatched away as their eternal nemesis Real Madrid grabbed the away goal they needed to advance into their third Champions League final in four seasons.
The previous two finals, of course, resulted in nail-biting victories over Atletico, who must be wondering what they have to do in order to claim European football’s biggest prize.
But the hard reality is that their awful performance in last week’s first leg at the Bernabeu just left them with too much to do, and even a stunning, swashbuckling start last night wasn’t enough to save them.
Below is how we rated both sets of players, our final verdict and man of the match.
Jan Oblak – 7
Jose Maria Gimenez – 6
Stefan Savic – 7
Diego Godin – 8
Filipe Luis – 6
Yannick Carrasco – 8
Saul Niguez – 7
Gabi (capt) – 6
Koke – 7
Antoine Griezmann – 7
Fernando Torres – 5
Kevin Gameiro for Torres (56′, 6), Thomas Partey for Giminez (57′, 6), Angel Correa for Koke (76′)
Coach: Diego Simeone – Outstanding team performance to restore credibility and self-respect 8/10
Keylor Navas – 7
Danilo – 6
Raphael Varane – 5
Sergio Ramos (capt) – 6
Marcelo – 6
Luka Modric – 8
Casemiro – 6
Toni Kroos – 8
Isco – 8
Cristiano Ronaldo – 5
Karim Benzema – 7
Lucas Vazquez for Casemiro (77′), Marco Asensio for Benzema (77′), Alvaro Morata for Isco (88′)
Coach: Zinedine Zidane – Instilled his team with the self-belief to keep calm at two down 7/10
When Real Madrid needed a goal, their best player in the last few weeks was again the man to –provide it.
And that was by no means Isco’s only contribution, with the Spain international showing all his quality with an occasionally dazzling display. Surely Zidane can’t leave him out now?
A magnificent performance from Atletico Madrid wasn’t enough as Real Madrid just about did enough.
Torrential rainfall in the closing stages provided a symbolic ending to a stormy encounter, which could have been so different if Isco hadn’t scored the away goal which killed the tie just before the break.
Real finished the night celebrating after controlling the midfield for the final hour, but they had been pushed extremely hard and Atletico will only be wondering why they didn’t play like this in the first leg.