Zidane adamant Atletico can be caught

By Sports Desk February 28, 2021

Zinedine Zidane insists Atletico Madrid can be caught at the top of the table, with the Real Madrid coach adamant the title is not out of reach for Los Blancos nor Barcelona.

Atletico lead the way in Spain's top flight and until recently looked to be running away with it, but their position has become a little less commanding after dropping points in three of their previous five league games.

A win at Villarreal on Sunday will put Atletico five points clear of Barca once again while still having a game in hand – Madrid, one point further back, will have also played one match more than their local rivals after Monday's visit of fifth-placed Real Sociedad.

Zidane is also seemingly not ruling out Sevilla despite the fact Julen Lopetegui's side lost 2-0 at home to Barca on Saturday, meaning they could end the weekend 10 points adrift of the summit.

While some are framing Atletico's position at the top as the most pressured, Zidane prefers to see it as Diego Simeone's men having an advantage, as the two Madrid giants prepare to tussle next weekend.

"Now the league [title race] is three, tomorrow it will be two and then four again," Zidane told reporters on Sunday." Everyone has their opinion.

"LaLiga is open to all and whoever is ahead has the advantage, but there are many points left and we are going to continue with our business.

"We do our thing. What's going to happen tonight, I don't know, and we don't even have to watch it – I will watch it as a fan.

"There are 42 points at stake and it is our objective is to add the maximum possible points."

Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard returning from injury would surely improve Madrid's fortunes, with the Frenchman last playing on February 14 and the former Chelsea star a month into his layoff with a thigh issue.

While both are getting closer to a return, Zidane still does not have a return date for either.

"Benzema and Hazard are better, but they are not ready," he said. "I cannot give a date, they will recover later than those who have already returned. I can't give an exact date."

Sergio Ramos is another player Madrid have had to cope without recently, with the captain absent since mid-January with a knee injury – not that it has stopped the centre-back dominating many of Zidane's news conferences since.

Ramos' contract is up at the end of the season and it remains to be seen if he will agree to an extension, which, to Zidane's frustration, is becoming a regular topic.

"You always ask me the same thing – he's an impressive man. I want him to get fit, but apart from that, nothing else. Tomorrow we have a game," Zidane said.

Related items

  • 'Real Madrid never give up' – Ancelotti proud of character in Athletic Bilbao win 'Real Madrid never give up' – Ancelotti proud of character in Athletic Bilbao win

    Carlo Ancelotti was pleased with Real Madrid's ability to grind out a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao after acknowledging they were far from their best at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    Karim Benzema, who also scored in the 2-1 win over Sevilla at the weekend, grabbed the only goal of the game in the 40th minute with his 12th strike of the LaLiga season.

    The France international has now scored 35 goals in 46 games for Madrid across all competitions in 2021, equalling his best goalscoring tally in a single calendar year for Los Blancos (35 goals in 50 games in 2019).

    The hosts had to work hard for a fifth consecutive LaLiga win, with the visitors taking 18 shots on Thibaut Courtois' goal.

    Indeed, their expected goals against indicator of 2.7 was the highest Madrid have had in a match this season in all competitions.

    "It is true that our opponents had more rest than us, and they are very good," Ancelotti told a media conference.

    "In the first half, we did well. In the second we failed with more passes than in the first, and we suffered.

    "The ability to suffer is a quality of the team. We know how to play football, and we know how to suffer when the football we want to play isn't happening.

    "Real Madrid never give up. Our character and commitment is very strong. Sometimes when we can't use our quality, we are able to use other qualities.

    "I liked the ending more than the first half – we were missing something then."

    The result moved Madrid seven points clear of Atletico Madrid in second, although Diego Simeone's men have a game in hand.

    Los Blancos are next in action on Saturday when they travel to third-placed Real Sociedad, and Ancelotti accepted he might be forced into making changes to his starting XI.

    "The team has finished tired, and we will have to analyse it," he added.

    "It is normal when you play against a fresher team that it costs you at the end a little. I must assess whether to make changes for the next game. We have three games very close [together], without time to rest.

    "I have to think carefully about the decisions, but the streak is very good, and I am very satisfied with everyone: with those who play, those who play for five minutes, and those who do not have a minute.

    "The atmosphere in the team is very good; I like it."

  • Paris Saint-Germain 0-0 Nice: Runaway Ligue 1 leaders thwarted at Parc des Princes Paris Saint-Germain 0-0 Nice: Runaway Ligue 1 leaders thwarted at Parc des Princes

    Paris Saint-Germain saw their 10-match winning home run in Ligue 1 halted as they were held to a goalless draw by Nice at Parc des Princes.

    The runaway leaders in the French top flight had found the net three times in each of their past three league games, but drew a blank on Wednesday.

    Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe went closest to scoring for Mauricio Pochettino's side, who proved wasteful in front of goal.

    Despite 20 shots on goal, the hosts were unable to break down Nice, who held out for their first clean sheet in this fixture in 18 attempts.

    Nice were seeking only a second win over PSG in 17 matches and Kasper Dolberg tested Gianluigi Donnarumma from long distance early on, while Presnel Kimpembe produced a wonderful last-ditch intervention to deny Andy Delort.

    It then took brilliant reflexes by Donnarumma to keep out Delort's header from point-blank range just after the half-hour mark.

    At the other end, Lionel Messi shot straight at Walter Benitez, while Achraf Hakimi blazed a good opportunity wide when the ball broke kindly for him just before half-time.

    Di Maria was played in behind the defence six minutes after the break, but Benitez was out quickly to block him.

    Dolberg then saw a glorious opportunity go begging in the 59th minute, as he somehow headed onto the post from two yards out with the goal gaping.

    A clever ball by Messi released Mbappe at the other end, but the France international could only shoot wide with just the goalkeeper to beat.

    PSG pressed for a dramatic winner as the clock ticked down, but were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.

  • Real Madrid 1-0 Athletic Bilbao: Benzema seals fifth straight LaLiga win for Los Blancos Real Madrid 1-0 Athletic Bilbao: Benzema seals fifth straight LaLiga win for Los Blancos

    Real Madrid moved seven points clear at the summit of LaLiga as Karim Benzema's solitary goal sealed a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.

    Benzema, who also scored in the 2-1 win over Sevilla at the weekend, struck in the 40th minute with his 12th league goal of the campaign – three more than anyone else in LaLiga. 

    Athletic created enough chances to claim at least a point at the Santiago Bernabeu, yet they were unable to find a way past Thibaut Courtois. 

    A fifth league win in a row lifted Carlo Ancelotti's side well clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid, although Diego Simeone's men have a game in hand.

    Unai Simon twice denied Benzema from close range inside the opening 15 minutes as Madrid started brightly.

    Athletic grew into the game, though, and twice went close before the half-hour mark, Inaki Williams seeing an effort deflected narrowly wide and an unmarked Raul Garcia heading straight at Courtois.

    Madrid went ahead five minutes before the interval, Benzema sliding into an empty net from Luka Modric's mishit shot after Simon had thwarted Marco Asensio.

    Toni Kroos whipped wide after a fine team move shortly after the restart, before Lucas Vazquez denied Dani Garcia a near-certain goal at the other end with a superb block. 

    Unai Nunez inexplicably headed wide from an inswinging free-kick with 20 minutes remaining, while Courtois raced off his line to deny Oihan Sancet as Athletic ultimately fell short of finding the leveller they deserved.


    What does it mean? Madrid pushed all the way

    Athletic's tally of 18 shots is evidence that Madrid were far from their best, but Ancelotti's men did just enough to seal maximum points against their spirited opponents.

    The result means Los Blancos are now unbeaten in their last 13 LaLiga games against Athletic – their best such run against them in the top flight.

    Brilliant Benzema

    The superb Benzema has now scored 35 goals in 46 games for Madrid across all competitions in 2021, equalling his best goalscoring tally in a single calendar year for Los Blancos (35 goals in 50 games in 2019).

    Shot-shy Vinicius

    He sealed all three points against Sevilla on Sunday with a sublime strike, but Vinicius Junior had no such luck in front of goal here. The Brazil international made a game-high five key passes, but failed to have a single shot as Madrid largely toiled in attack.

    What's next?

    Madrid travel to third-placed Real Sociedad on Saturday, while Athletic are next in action on Monday when they visit Getafe.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.