Real Madrid boss Santiago Solari hinted that his relationship with playmaker Isco is heading in a positive direction, calling the Spaniard “a great player”.
There was speculation that the relationship between the pair is strained. Isco has been replaced by Marco Asensio in the starting line-up and has started just one game under Solari’s reign.
Ahead of Los Blancos’ clash against Villarreal, the Madrid boss praised the midfielder and mentioned that he brings a lot of joy.
“Isco is a great player, he has given us a lot of joy and will continue to do so,” Solari said.
“Villarreal are always a difficult opponent, they will be hoping to turn around their fortunes, they have a new Coach and are always one of the league’s most difficult trips.
“This is the same team who excelled last season, they have a different style and system but they have a lot of quality.
“We have to give a lot of energy to generate a strong performance, to get back into our rhythm and show good transition between defence and attack.
“It is a difficult time to play, returning after the holidays, we only had a few days to train but the circumstances are not ideal.
“We start the New Year with eyes on three fronts, we are going into optimism in the league, in the Copa and in the Champions League.”
Santiago Solari refused to be drawn into discussing Real Madrid’s transfer plans as speculation over a new striker continues to mount.
Mariano Diaz returned from Lyon over the summer, but the £20m player has yet to be trusted with a run of games over the goal-shy Karim Benzema.
Meanwhile Keylor Navas is likely to be on his way out, having posted a message on his Instagram saying stating ‘thanks for everything’ after a campaign that has seen him relegated to the bench behind former Chelsea stopper Thibaut Courtois.
Spanish playmaker Isco has also seen his opportunities limited. But Solari, whose side take on Villarreal on Thursday night, said: “I have no news to tell you about (transfers). What we are interested in is tomorrow’s game, and the start of this year, which we must begin with the maximum humility and commitment. Which we have at the moment.”
When pushed on potential Navas and Isco exits, Solari responded: “I’m not working on any hypotheses. We’re all focused on the game tomorrow. All those players are part of the squad, I’m not thinking about any other hypothesis.
“It’s not my place to talk about transfer strategies. That’s a private matter.”
Madrid return to La Liga action after a successful Club World Cup campaign in the UAE, and can ill afford a slip-up against struggling Villarreal.
Solari’s men are eight points off Barcelona – but with a game in hand – while Villarreal, who recently appointed former Baniyas boss Luis Garcia, are mired in the relegation zone.
“We have to do a solid game, put in a solid performance with a lot of energy,” Solari added. “It’s very important that we have good rhythm. Villarreal will try and change their dynamic, it’s always a difficult stadium to visit.
“They’ve changed their manager, that will bring maybe a change of style, change of system. We’re taking on the same team but with different characteristics.”
Despite a mini-crisis at the beginning of the season, Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos believes that 2018 will be remembered as a historic year for Los Blancos.
The trophy cabinet at Santiago Bernabeu saw two new entries last year after Madrid were crowned as the Champions League and Club World Cup winners. It was a third successive title for the Spanish giants in both the competitions.
The club held an open training session for fans at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, and Ramos had the opportunity to vocalise his views on how 2018 was a great year for the club.
“Hopefully in 2019 we can continue to maintain our streak of recent years but we will remember this year as an historic year,” he said.
“I hope that we can celebrate many more titles with our fans. Let all fans enjoy their team and have a fascinating 2019.”