Zidane asks Madrid players to ignore Barcelona's lead
By JOSEPH WILSON
Dec. 22, 2017
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Zinedine Zidane is sending a simple message to his Real Madrid players ahead of Saturday's match against Barcelona.
Don't mind the gap.
Madrid trails Barcelona by 11 points with a game in hand before the "clasico." It also has Atletico Madrid and Valencia to overtake before it can challenge for the title.
That means anything but a victory would put its Spanish league title defense in severe jeopardy before the season reaches its midway point.
But Zidane only wants his players to focus on the upcoming 90 minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu.
"We aren't nervous. We have to think about playing a good match, not if we are 11, or eight, or 25 points behind," Zidane said Friday. "We are going to have to play a good match against a very good rival."
Zidane said that whatever the result, his team would keep fighting for the title. But he acknowledged the importance of the game.
"It is without doubt our most difficult match of the season because the games between Madrid and Barca are always beautiful, yet difficult," the former Madrid midfielder said. "But that is what inspires us. Players live to play games like this one. You are always thinking of this date."
As for Cristiano Ronaldo, who trained separately from his teammates earlier this week but rejoined them for team practice on Friday, Zidane said his star forward was "100 percent ready" to play.
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde doesn't think his team's lead over Madrid gives them an advantage either.
"Both teams are under pressure to win this match because of what it means," Valverde said. "We can't say that just because one is behind in the table it has more pressure. It's possible but not significant."
In his first season as Barcelona coach, Valverde has the team on a run of 24 matches without a loss since Madrid won both legs of the Spanish Super Cup to start the season.
"We are a bit better than we were when we played the Super Cup," Valverde said. "It's a chance to make up for our performances in the Super Cup and test ourselves against our rival."