Madrid failed to capitalise on Barca’s 2-2 draw at home to Celta Vigo earlier in the day as they played out a 0-0 stalemate at Athletic Bilbao to drop points for the sixth time in 14 La Liga games so far this season.
“For me the most important thing is to keep thinking that we are going to have another opportunity throughout the course of the season to cut the gap,” said Zidane.
That opportunity to cut the eight-point gap between the sides is most likely to come when Madrid host Barcelona in three weeks time.
However, Real could go into that match down in fifth in the table as they currently lead Sevilla only on goal difference in fourth and trail Valencia and Atletico Madrid.
Zidane’s men will also be depleted without captain Sergio Ramos, who saw his 24th career red card late on at Sam Mames, Dani Carvajal and Casemiro through suspension when Sevilla visit the Bernabeu next weekend.
And Real will play a game fewer in La Liga than their rivals before the end of the year as they jet off to contest the Club World Cup between the 13th and 16th of December.
“At the moment there are three teams in front of us, but there are still six months left. We are at little behind, but there is a long way to go,” added Zidane.
Zidane had shown his intent to pounce on Barca’s slip-up by naming his strongest available side as Gareth Bale once again missed out through injury.
Without the man from Cardiff, Madrid started with the same line-up that started the Champions League final in the Welsh capital six months ago.
However, Zidane insisted it is merely results and not the level of performance that has changed for Real since they swept Juventus aside to retain the Champions League and beat Barcelona to the La Liga title last season.
“It is the result, nothing more. When I look at the game today, I can’t say we are playing worse,” added the Frenchman.
“What changes things are goals. That day we scored four against Juve and today we couldn’t score.
“Last season we would score goals in the last minute and at the moment that isn’t happening.
“We need to keep going and think that there will be better moments to come.”
— Real Madrid C.F.🇬🇧 (@realmadriden) December 2, 2017
Cristiano Ronaldo and Co were left frustrated as they remain eight points behind the La Liga leaders.
Here, we rate the players from both sides.
Kepa: The reported Real transfer target further enhanced his growing reputation with a confident and assured display, showing safe handling from crosses and making some decent saves look easy. 7
De Marcos: Had his hands full with Marcelo and was rightly booked for scything down the Brazilian. Struggled to make an attacking impact and was substituted with 30 minutes remaining. 6
Nunez: More or less faultless display in the heart of Athletic’s defence. Made a key block from Varane’s goal-bound header and was in the right place at the right time to deal with danger on countless occasions. 9
Etxeita: Booked for a wild lunge on Modric but was otherwise excellent, forming a good partnership with Nunez and repeatedly clearing his lines with authority. 7
Balenziaga: Like the rest of his team, the experienced left-back was determined and played with great intensity. Couldn’t get forward to much effect. 6
Rico: Worked tirelessly to cover an immense amount of ground in the centre of midfield, carrying out a lot of excellent work defensively as well as using the ball with calm composure. Understated unsung hero. 8
Iturraspe: Tidy and disciplined until he was forced off injured near the end of the first half. 6
Williams: Showed his irritating habit of running down blind alleys but also posed a regular threat down the right. Fired a low angled shot across goal to force a good save from Navas and consistently troubled Marcelo. 7
Garcia: A typically scrappy performance, owing more to brawn than brain or technique as he battled for every loose ball. Perhaps should have scored in the first half when he mis-hit a close-range shot from a free-kick. 6
Susaeta: Busy and involved at both ends of the field. Delivered some dangerous balls into the box, and popped up to try a close-range chip which Navas pushed away. 7
Aduriz: Combative and niggly display, clearly relishing his physical battle with Ramos who was eventually sent off after they tangled. Came close with a glancing header in the first half and a low drive early in the second. 6
San Jose: Came on just before the break and battled hard in the defensive central midfield position, helping snuff out several dangerous Madrid attacks. 7
Lekue: Introduced at right-back and initially struggled to get into the pace of the game, but gradually settled. 6
Cordoba: A late introduction for Williams and had little impact. N/A
Navas: Back in action after missing the last six league games and did a great job, making two good saves in the first half, pushing aside Aduriz’s header and diving full stretch to deny Williams. Also saved well from Aduriz early in the second. 8
Carvajal: Ventured forward regularly but lacked accuracy with his final ball. Caught badly out of position for Aduriz’s chance early in the second half but otherwise solid in defence. Booked near the end to earn a suspension. 6
Varane: Stood up to the aggression of Aduriz and Garcia to marshal the defence well, rarely looked troubled. Had a decent headed chance near the end of the first half but it lacked power. 8
Ramos: The masked man was controversially sent off for two yellow cards from aerial clashes, firstly with Garcia and then with Aduriz. In between he defended with his usual determination and rigour. 7
Marcelo: Generally sharper than he has been in recent weeks and always an attacking threat, but regularly struggled at the back against Williams. Ended up as an extra forward down the left. 6
Modric: Couldn’t exert his usual influence for the first hour, and although he became more of a presence as the game wore on he still couldn’t control the tempo of a frantic game as he would have liked. 6
Casemiro: A frustrating evening for the Brazilian in the fiercely contested midfield battleground. Occasionally looked harried and received a booking for a challenge on Aduriz which will see him also miss next weekend’s meeting with Sevilla. 6
Isco: Delivered a good early cross for Benzema’s shot against the post but proceeded to deliver one of his weaker performances, conceding possession cheaply too often and lacking attacking penetration. Subbed near the end. 5
Kroos: The best of the visiting midfield. Prodded and probed with a clever range of passing and posed a regular goal threat. Had a low long-range shot saved and fired a left-footed strike wide from the edge of the box. 7
Benzema: An active performance in the first half, perhaps the best 45 minutes he’s produced this season. Hit the post early on with a left-footed strike. Faded after the break and was substituted. 6
Ronaldo: The game’s biggest goal threat. Sent a free-kick high and wide, had a long-range fizzer saved, dragged a good chance well wide with his left foot and crashed a left-footed volley crashing against the base of the post. 7
Kovacic: Came on for Isco but had little impact. N/A
Mayoral: Appeared for Benzema for the first ten minutes and worked hard without real impact. N/A
Given the way the champions performed at home against 18th-placed Malaga last week, Bilbao’s low place on the league table is no guarantee of a Madrid success, although they will still be strong favourites for the clash.
Here are three talking points ahead of the game.
ZIDANE UNDER PRESSURE?
Winning back to back Champions League titles and last season’s La Liga crown has earned highly respected and well-liked Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane more credit in the bank than would usually be afforded to occupants of the hottest of hotseats at the Bernabeu.
But even Zidane is now starting to be questioned after a highly unconvincing start to the season for Los Blancos, whose poor form continued in the past few days with a fortunate 3-2 home win over relegation-threatened Malaga and a scrappy 2-2 home draw against lower league Fuenlabrada in the Copa del Rey.
There’s certainly no suggestion that Zidane is currently close to being fired by trigger-happy president Florentino Perez, but a few more weeks of the current form could change. With his team looking poor all over the park, the French coach desperately needs to oversee a vast improvement between now and the New Year to avoid coming under the microscope – especially with runaway leaders Barcelona due to visit the Bernabeu in three weeks’ time.
ZIGANDA’S DAYS NUMBERED?
Zidane won’t be the only manager under pressure at San Mames on Saturday, with Athletic’s boss Cuco Ziganda rumoured to be nearing the sack following his team’s humiliating midweek cup exit against lower league Fortmentera.
The Basque club have desperately struggled to maintain their recent high standards following the departure of coach Ernesto Valverde to Barcelona in the summer, and they are heading into this weekend’s encounter stuck down in 16th position after gaining just three league wins so far this season.
A long-term injury to the team’s chief creative force Iker Muniain hasn’t helped matters, but Ziganda – who was previously the club’s B team boss before being selected to succeed Valverde – is expected to extract a lot more out of a talented squad containing highly rated players such as young goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (reportedly a firm target for Real Madrid), French defender Aymeric Laporte, gifted but erratic forward Inaki Williams and evergreen frontman Aritz Aduriz.
After a run of five league games without a win – and just one win in ten – victory against Madrid would be a perfect way for the Basque outfit to start turning their season around.
WHAT NOW FOR GARETH BALE?
After two months sidelined by his latest in a long line of injuries, Gareth Bale made a long-awaited return to action by coming off the bench in the midweek cup clash with Fuenlabrada. And the Welshman made an immediate impression with practically his first touch by delivering a gorgeous assist for Borja Mayoral to equalise, rescuing a potentially embarrassing exit against the minnows.
However, Bale’s impressive and encouraging half-hour cameo display was quickly followed by reports that he had suffered yet another injury setback, and much to the frustration of Madrid fans the Welshman will miss Saturday’s game with a calf strain.
Bale remains a key player when he is fit, but his long-term future at the Bernabeu was already being questioned before this latest setback, with president Perez – who has always been one of the winger’s strongest advocates – reportedly deciding the Welshman’s persistent physical problems have made his continuity at the club untenable. If he now has another extended spell on the sidelines, it could signal the imminent end to his stay in Spain.