Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane believes his players have responded positively to clear-the-air talks ahead of Saturday’s La Liga clash with Villarreal.
Real reached the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey – where they will face Leganes – in midweek, but lie 16 points behind rivals Barcelona in the league.
“It’s always about looking for positives,” Zidane told a pre-match press conference in quotes reported on the club’s website.
“I’ve seen a change in the team since our chat. Now we have to reflect that on the pitch. We’re not struggling to find our play, we’re just lacking the continuity we need to get our confidence back, and we can only find that by winning games.
“Winning is the most important thing and we’ve found it hard of late, but we’ll keep going. We’re still alive in every competition and having watched the games back, I don’t agree with a lot of the criticism, but I have to accept it. There are still positive elements in this team.
“The difficult thing is to avoid reading and listening to what’s being said. That’s not at all easy in this day and age but you have to try. All that’s being said about Real Madrid at the moment is negative, but I, and many others, don’t share that view. The situation is what it is, but we must look for positives; we’re still alive in every competition. We’re not in as bad a place as people say. We need to find that positive energy among the group and keep moving forward.
“I’m not worried about the (atmosphere at) Bernabeu. We want people to come and cheer us on, which is what they’ve always done. We can’t focus all on the negative. We need our fans. Just as when we’re playing well we need to keep our feet on the ground, when we’re going through a tough spell we need them to help us out.”
Villarreal lie sixth in La Liga, just four points behind Real and Zidane added: “Our concentration will be at 100 per cent because we’re up against very good opposition, who are having a fantastic season. They have not lost many games.
“We’re going to try all we can to win the game. That’s our goal and it’s what we’re preparing for. They know how to use the ball very well and they cover a lot of ground. They’re a positive team and their results reflect that.”
Karim Benzema has resumed training following injury but will not be rushed back into action.
Villarreal coach Javi Calleja will be without suspended defender Victor Ruiz for the trip to Madrid, while the likes of Bruno, Roberto Soriano and Andres Fernandez remain sidelined through injury.
— Real Madrid C.F.🇬🇧 (@realmadriden) January 12, 2018
Luis Figo has refuted suggestions his former team-mate Zinedine Zidane is under pressure at Real Madrid and insists hard work is the only way he and the club will emerge from a testing time that sees them trail runaway leaders Barcelona in La Liga.
The Blaugrana are nine points clear of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid in second place, while Zidane’s reigning champions are stuck in fourth, a gargantuan 16 points separating them and their fierce Spanish rivals.
Los Blancos do have a game in hand on Ernesto Valverde’s rampant side, although they face a stern test when they welcome sixth-placed Villareal – just four points behind them in the table – on Saturday evening.
And despite a testing start to Real’s title defence, Figo claims his friend will not be feeling the pressure.
“To be a coach you are always under pressure, and more when you are in a club like Real Madrid,” said Figo, adding that although retaining their league title seems remote, Real and Zidane will have other targets, like the Champions League – where they face Paris Saint-Germain in a mouthwatering last 16 clash next month.
“Of course the league is more difficult because of the distance in the points between them and Barcelona, it is big. But they have another goal so they have to continue to work.”
This season has seen Los Blancos already lose three times in 17 games – Barca are unbeaten – which has been in stark contrast to a stellar 2017 which saw Madrid sweep up a record five trophies.
La Liga, the Champions League, Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup – the latter hoisted in Abu Dhabi last month – have all been claimed by Madrid under Zidane’s management, but they have failed to recover from a woeful start to the domestic 2017/18 campaign.
Nevertheless, Figo – who famously switched the Camp Nou for the Santiago Bernabeu in 2000 where he played alongside France maestro Zidane for four years – claims his fellow former Galactico has done an “amazing” job in the Spanish capital.
“I think he is doing amazing, even in this last few months,” added the 45-year-old, a winner of La Liga twice each with Real and Barca.
“The club has had some negative results but that doesn’t mean he’s doing bad. I think there are always up and downs throughout the season and I hope Real Madrid continue to fight for the goals they have this season.”
Prosecutors believe the Croatian evaded €870,728 on revenue from his image rights in 2013 and 2014 via a shell company set up in Luxembourg.
On Tuesday, he gave a court in Alcobendas near Madrid, which is in charge of his case, evidence that he paid tax authorities close to €1million euros on January 4 – the sum he allegedly evaded plus interest.
The 32-year-old Croat, who joined Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur for a reported fee of £30 million in 2012, paid the money “voluntarily,” the judicial source, who refused to be named, told AFP.
Judicial authorities are still investing financial holdings belonging to the player in the Isle of Man, on which Modric refused to comment in court.
Modric is just the latest in a series of star players based in Spain to be accused of tax fraud on income related to image rights in the past few years.
In November, Madrid left-back Marcelo admitted to a €490,917 tax fraud via his image rights in 2013.
Real Madrid’s all-time leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo appeared in court in July over accusations he evaded €14.7 million worth of tax between 2011 and 2014.
Barcelona duo Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano received 21-month and one-year suspended sentences respectively after being found guilty of tax fraud over their image rights in 2016.
However, five-time World Player of the Year Messi’s sentence was later replaced by a €252,000 fine.