22 Dec Zidane plays down importance of El Clasico despite large points gap
Zinedine Zidane does not see El Clasico as make or break for Real Madrid’s title hopes, even though they would trail Barcelona by 14 points if they lose on Saturday.
Los Blancos won the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi last weekend but are now focused on domestic matters in their first LaLiga meeting of the season with Barca.
An 11-point lead for Ernesto Valverde’s side at this stage of the season looked highly improbable when Real defeated his men 5-1 across two legs in the Spanish Super Cup in August.
Yet, having dropped just six points all season, Barca head to the Spanish capital with a huge advantage over the defending champions, not that Zidane believes it is an insurmountable lead even if his team suffer defeat.
In quotes published on Real’s official website, Zidane told a press conference: “We have to not think about the difference in points. I don’t think it’s a decisive match in terms of the league. You have to think positively.
“We’re very good and better in each area of the field. Even if we lose, the league will not be over. Every match will be a final and we’ll try to reduce the points difference but always staying calm and playing good football. Whatever happens, we’ll continue working and knowing that it’s a very long season.”
Zidane expects to have Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale available as the former returned to full training on Friday following a calf complaint.
Welshman Bale has not played a league fixture since September but made a pair of cameos from the bench at the Club World Cup, and Zidane has vowed not to rush him into action despite the fixture’s magnitude.
“I always trust my players and communication is the most important thing,” he added. “I’ll not choose a player because I want him to play in a Clasico. I trust my players and they can get injured, but the important thing is that I think he is 100 per cent to play. We’ll see if he plays or not.”
Whichever line-up Zidane selects, they will not be afforded a guard of honour by the visiting Barcelona players. That has been on the agenda ever since Ronaldo said it “would be nice” if Barca performed the act following Real’s Club World Cup triumph, yet boss Valverde insists the act has lost its meaning.
“(It was) something done years ago as a symbolic tribute, as recognition between players, when football had not acquired this nuance that is contaminating everything,” Valverde said in quotes published on marca.com.
“We do have recognition towards Madrid, for what they have achieved this year. On the notion of a guard of honour, I wouldn’t do it for anyone, nor would I want it to be done for us. It has now has lost the essence that it had a few years ago.”