Zinedine Zidane moved to defend Marcelo and Gareth Bale after Real Madrid's "painful" 2-2 draw at home to Celta Vigo.

Marcelo was a surprise starter ahead of Ferland Mendy for Sunday's contest at Santiago Bernabeu where Santi Mina earned the visitors an 85th-minute equaliser after Toni Kroos' strike and a Sergio Ramos penalty had cancelled out Fedor Smolov's opener.

The Brazil full-back, a mainstay of Madrid's line-up for over a decade, has faced criticism at times this season, particularly over his performances defensively, but head coach Zidane had no issues with Marcelo's showing.

"I don't think he makes us weaker defensively, because he was good at the back, but you always bring out stats," Zidane said.

"I'm happy with everyone for how they play and when they play."

Bale was mainly ineffective having been selected to start in a front three alongside Karim Benzema and the returning Eden Hazard.

Zidane, though, said the focus is on how the team as a collective can improve after they missed the chance to win a sixth straight LaLiga match.

"I think Bale played a good game and we have to keep thinking that there's a long way to go and we have to think about what we all do on the pitch to improve it," Zidane added.

On how he felt after conceding the late equaliser, the Frenchman said: "Painful to be brutally honest. I thought the team gave a very big effort to try to win the game. 

"After taking the lead and five minutes towards the end conceding the draw, it's not very good. 

"But I'm very pleased with my team, it wasn't easy for us. A first half where we conceded a goal after six minutes and then they closed themselves at the back, very defensively solid.

"The gap in the first half, we were trying to cross the ball too much, but in the second half we did it much better."

One positive for Madrid was the return of Belgium forward Hazard, who has been absent since November with an ankle injury.

Zidane was encouraged by what he saw from the former Chelsea star.

"I'm very happy to have him back and with the 70 minutes he played," Zidane said. 

"I think we know the player he is, and after three months out it wouldn't be easy for him to come back in and play a great game, but I'm very happy with his game and to have him back."

Zinedine Zidane again reiterated there is no problem between himself and Gareth Bale after recalling the winger for Real Madrid's 4-1 win at Osasuna.

Madrid extended their lead at the top of LaLiga to six points ahead of Barcelona's trip to Real Betis as they prevailed in a feisty encounter at El Sadar.

Unai Garcia headed the hosts into a 14th-minute lead but Isco volleyed in his first league goal of the campaign and Sergio Ramos edged Madrid in front before the break.

Substitutes Lucas Vazquez and Luka Jovic added gloss to the scoreline late on, the former having replaced the recalled Bale 20 minutes from time.

The Wales star passed up a pair of half-chances before having a hand in Isco's equaliser and Zidane was impressed by his efforts without the ball, during what was at times a gruelling contest.

"He is an important player, he has shown it," Zidane told reporters afterwards.

"He has not played the last three games and has made 70 very good minutes defensively.

"Then, the problem is that they want us to have a problem with Gareth, but there is not one.

"There are many players, it’s not easy to manage all that. He’s a very important player, he’s always shown it and he’ll keep playing, like the others."

Asked again about Bale's performance, Zidane added: "He has done well. I am happy for his game, offensively and defensively he has given everything.

"He was a bit short physically at the end, so he has left the field. We know the player he is and that he is going to give a lot from now until the end of the season. Let's count on Gareth."

Jovic is another player who has not always found favour with his boss and the former Eintracht Frankfurt striker's fabulous left-footed finish marked only a second LaLiga goal, and his first since October.

"I'm glad for him, I needed him, he is a pure striker of whom you can say many things," Zidane said.

"He plays well, but if he does not score a goal he is not happy. He has to improve, but I'm glad for his goal. It will come in handy."

Eden Hazard was absent once more, with the Belgium playmaker running out of time to prove his fitness before the Champions League clash with Manchester City at the end of this month.

"It's a thing we do together," Zidane explained when discussing the management of Hazard's recovery from a fractured ankle.

"It wasn't the time today again and we'll see this week. He's going to need this week, it's going to be long. We're going to see him next week, I hope."

Isco's first LaLiga goal of the season helped Real Madrid to a battling 4-1 win at Osasuna on Sunday.

The hosts deservedly hit the front at a bristling El Sadar thanks to Unai Garcia's header, but Isco finished with aplomb in the 33rd minute.

Sergio Ramos' knack for vital goals came up trumps for Zinedine Zidane once more before the interval, and Madrid now lead Barcelona by six points at the summit.

Substitutes Lucas Vazquez and Luka Jovic made sure of that state of affairs before Quique Setien takes Barca to face his old employers Real Betis in the day's late kick-off.

Right-back Nacho Vidal fizzed a 20-yard shot narrowly wide inside the first minute to serve notice of Osasuna's intentions before Jose Arnaiz and Ruben Garcia raided down the right-hand side of Madrid's defence to go close.

It meant the 14th-minute opener was on the cards when it arrived – Unai Garcia stooping to head home Ruben Garcia's corner.

Madrid's most immediate route back into the match appeared to be Osasuna keeper Sergio Herrera, who twice darted from his goal and was indebted to last-ditch clearances from shots by Karim Benzema and Dani Carvajal.

Herrera was more conventionally placed but had no chance when Isco dispatched a looping ball on the volley after Gareth Bale's attempt was blocked.

Casemiro atoned for his poor marking on Osasuna's goal by heading Luka Modric's corner back across goal for Ramos to make it 2-1.

Unai Garcia got in the way of Benzema's goalbound 49th-minute effort from a Modric cutback, and Osasuna kept scrapping away – Casemiro turning Ruben Garcia's shot behind after Nacho Vidal ransacked Isco.

The playmaker was certainly more at home in the opposition half and a sharp low stop from Herrera kept out an Isco snapshot before Vazquez replaced Bale.

The Spain winger benefitted from Benzema's unselfish 84th-minute pass, while Modric and Federico Valverde combined for Jovic to rifle in his second LaLiga goal – and first since October – in stoppage time.

Inigo Perez rattling Thibaut Courtois crossbar showed Osasuna's spirit remained intact until the last.
 

What does it mean? Pressure on Barca

Madrid might not have been at their best here, but it does not matter. Barcelona's uncertain start to life under Setien will now continue with them eyeing a mounting deficit when they kick-off at Estadio Benito Villamarin. Anything more than three points for the Blaugrana and this weekend will come to appear pivotal in the title battle.

Ramos proves the master of irritation once more

He is certainly not to everyone's taste, but if you're a fan, this was time to enjoy some pure, unadulterated, hook-it-to-my-veins Sergio Ramos. Madrid were lucky to be level when Ramos decided to begin a prolonged argument with any Osasuna player willing to listen. The trap of distraction was set for the corner to come and the unmarked skipper proceeded to mock his opponents by sucking his thumb and blowing kisses in celebration. In a title race that could be scrapped for until the last, Madrid have the ideal man leading the charge.

Lack of sharpness does Bale no favours

Claiming an assist for Isco's equaliser would be ambitious, but Bale needs all he can get at Madrid right now. Granted only a 10th LaLiga start this term, the Wales star volleyed into the side-netting and headed over from Carvajal deliveries before half-time. They were, at best, half-chances but Bale's dwindling standing with Zidane means he now needs something special every time an opportunity comes his way.

What's next?

Madrid host Celta Vigo in seven days' time, when Osasuna travel to Athletic Bilbao.

Gareth Bale was named in Real Madrid's starting line-up for Sunday's LaLiga meeting with Osasuna at El Sadar.

Wales international Bale sat out Madrid's past four games, having initially struggled with an ankle injury sustained in the Copa del Rey clash against Unionistas de Salamanca on January 22.

However, he got the nod from Zinedine Zidane to make just his 10th league start of the season and first in over a month.

Bale's return was one of eight changes to the team that was eliminated from the Copa del Rey quarter-finals by Real Sociedad on Thursday.

Sergio Ramos, Federico Valverde and Karim Benzema were the only players to hang onto their places.

Thibaut Courtois was back in goal, with Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane and Ferland Mendy joining Ramos in defence.

Luka Modric and Casemiro were brought in for Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez, while Zidane picked Bale and Isco to flank Karim Benzema in attack.

Gareth Bale is back in Real Madrid's squad for Sunday's LaLiga trip to Osasuna following Zinedine Zidane's insistence there is no issue between the pair.

Bale, who is enduring an underwhelming season, last featured for Madrid in the Copa del Rey clash with Unionistas de Salamanca on January 22.

The ankle knock he suffered in that encounter was only minor, but after being left out for their next game – a 1-0 win at Real Valladolid – he also failed to get himself back in contention for the next three outings.

Most recently Madrid lost 4-3 at home in a thrilling Copa del Rey quarter-final tussle with Real Sociedad, and despite scoring Los Blancos' third, Rodrygo Goes is one of those to come out of the travelling party.

Eden Hazard continues to miss out as well – the Belgian yet to make his return from an ankle injury he suffered in November, despite making his comeback to training more than two weeks ago.

Also returning are Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez and Dani Carvajal as Madrid look to restore their six-point lead over Barcelona at the summit, who face head coach Quique Setien's former team Real Betis later the same day.

Zinedine Zidane insisted it "couldn't be further from the truth" to suggest there is a problem with Gareth Bale at Real Madrid.

Wales forward Bale has played just 12 LaLiga matches for Madrid this season and was not involved in Thursday's Copa del Rey quarter-final against Real Sociedad.

Spanish media reported Bale left the Santiago Bernabeu long before the final whistle in that match, which ended in a 4-3 defeat for Madrid.

He has barely been involved since the turn of the year, yet Zidane told reporters in a news conference on Saturday they should not "read between the lines".

Bale's situation dominated the media room discussion before Madrid's Sunday trip to face Osasuna.

When asked if he was happy with the way Bale is training, Zidane said: "Yes, and I'm happy with all the players I have here.

"I know the answer you're looking for, but I have 25 players at my disposal and I have to pick a team. There's no issues or underlying problems and I'm sure he's going to keep working as he has been and he's going to be a part of this team."

The question of Bale leaving before the end of the Sociedad match was raised, but again Zidane played it straight, saying: "The most important thing is he wants to be here, wants to work hard, wants to train.

"There are times when he's not named in the matchday squad but I wouldn't read between the lines. I understand everyone has a point of view but he's going to be a player I'll lean on from now until the end."

Bale's agent recently said the former Tottenham star intends to stay at the club at least until the end of his contract in 2022, spurring Zidane to say he has "no issue whatsoever" with that plan.

The 30-year-old almost left Madrid in the close season, when a move to Chinese side Jiangsu Suning was called off.

What might be said in private between Zidane and Bale remains the subject of conjecture.

"We talk regularly, but I'm not going to tell you what I tell my players behind closed doors," Zidane said.

"He hasn't been in the last few squad lists – I have to choose. We know what he can bring to the side – he has to be fit and ready and I want him to be in the best shape to play.

"I have to pick a team, a squad, and the players are battling for a place in the squad and the starting XI. I have to choose the players every three days.

"You might think there's a problem but no, that couldn't be further from the truth."

Premier League clubs are queuing up to sign Jadon Sancho.

But, Borussia Dortmund will not be rushed in parting with the England teenager.

Dortmund are reportedly determined to make the most of a strong Euro 2020 for the 19-year-old.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND WON'T RUSH SANCHO SALE

Borussia Dortmund will take their time over selling in-demand star Jadon Sancho amid links to Manchester United and Chelsea, reports 90min.

Sancho is a player in demand, with Premier League giants United and Chelsea interested in luring the 19-year-old back to England.

Bundesliga outfit Dortmund, however, are keen to maximise Sancho's transfer value after Euro 2020.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona captain Lionel Messi wants to stay at Camp Nu despite his public row with sporting director Eric Abidal, according to Sky Sports News. Amid uncertainty over Messi's future with his contract due to expire in 2021, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner had been linked to Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Inter and United.

- Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane is unhappy with Gareth Bale's training, reports Marca. Bale – who was linked with a return to former club Tottenham during the January transfer window – and his intensity at training has reportedly angered Zidane.

- Real Sociedad striker Willian Jose is Barcelona's main target, says Marca. With Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele injured, LaLiga champions Barca are hoping to be granted permission to sign a Spain-based player to fill the void.

- Il Mattino claims United are at the front of the que to sign Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly. The defender has also been linked to Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and City.

Juventus are rushing to make a move for United star Paul Pogba, says Tuttosport. United are reportedly resigned to Pogba leaving and former club Juve are keen to bring the Frenchman back to Turin as Madrid also circle.

Eden Hazard must wait to make his Real Madrid comeback after failing to make the matchday squad for the Copa del Rey clash with Real Sociedad, while Gareth Bale is missing once again.

Belgium forward Hazard has been absent since November with an ankle injury and only returned to training last week.

There had been hope he could feature in the derby against Atletico Madrid, which Zinedine Zidane's men won 1-0 on Saturday, but he was not included for that game.

Head coach Zidane was non-committal on his involvement for the quarter-final tie against Sociedad and Hazard was not among a 19-man squad named on Wednesday.

Bale remains conspicuous by his absence after Zidane said his exclusion for the match against Atleti was not due to injury, saying: "He was available. When it came to deciding, I picked others."

Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez and Dani Carvajal are also not among those selected. Reports in Spain suggest Casemiro has been suffering with flu, while Carvajal took a knock against Atleti. 

Nacho Fernandez, Brahim Diaz and Rodrygo Goes – all absent against Atleti – are included against Sociedad.

There was "no chance" of Gareth Bale joining Tottenham in the January transfer window, according to his agent Jonathan Barnett, who does not think his client will ever return to the north London club.

Bale has been a peripheral figure under Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane in recent weeks and was not included in the matchday squad for the weekend derby win over Atletico Madrid.

His omission came a day after the transfer window closed with the Welshman still at the Santiago Bernabeu, quashing talk of a move back to Spurs.

Asked if Jose Mourinho's men were ever an option, Barnett told talkSPORT: "No.

"Gareth still believes there is a future for him at Real Madrid.

"He has two and a half years left on his contract, he has a wife and three children who are very happy and settled. Fortunately, he can pick and choose where he plays.

"And let's be realistic, for most clubs he's out of their league, financially. It's easy for people to say 'give up the money and play somewhere else' but it's not always about money. He's happy in Madrid and his kids have grown up there, his family are settled."

On whether a move back to Spurs may be an option in 2022, Barnett added: "I don't think so, no.

"When his contract is up, he will sit down and decide what he wants to do."

Bale's situation continues to create debate with Madrid fans mystified as to why a player for whom the club paid a then-record £85million in 2013 is sidelined at a time when Eden Hazard remains absent through injury.

Barnett added: "A lot has been said by people that don't know what's going on. You get articles, comments from people who have no idea what they are talking about.

"I've had conversations and we've been told that he's still a very important part of Madrid. 

"The only people who know what's going on are Zinedine Zidane, Gareth and probably the president of Madrid and they're all very happy with the situation."

On the criticism Bale gets, Barnett said: "He doesn't read it, most sports people don't read the press. 

"In Madrid a lot of bad journalism takes place, they're very biased, they write whatever they like.

"The fans have booed Zidane, they've booed [Cristiano] Ronaldo and other great players, but Gareth has given the club a lot. As he doesn't do press, he doesn't give a lot of interviews and he's a quiet person he's become a sitting target for them.

"The British press [are no better]. Gareth is probably, if not the number one, one of the top two or three players to have come out of Britain.

"Instead of building him up, all they look for is the bad things."

How close did Gareth Bale come to reuniting with Tottenham on transfer deadline day?

According to reports, the Premier League club went so far as to send representatives to Spain in an audacious attempt to lure the Wales international back to north London.

But even Jose Mourinho's backing could not force the deal over the line on Friday.

 

TOP STORY - SPURS INVESTIGATED AUDACIOUS BALE BID

Tottenham's interest in re-signing Bale prompted chairman Daniel Levy to skip across Europe for talks with Real Madrid counterpart Florentino Perez, according to the Times.

Spurs reportedly believed a "breakthrough" had been made in the hours before the window closed and had "growing confidence" a deal could be agreed.

But, per the Daily Mail, Bale's reluctance to take a pay cut on his £600,000-per-week wages meant negotiations came unstuck.

The report claims head coach Mourinho was "fully behind" the ultimately fruitless attempt to pull off what would have been a statement of intent.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tottenham's near misses did not end with Bale. Sky Sports say Spurs and Antonio Conte's Inter attempted to sign Odion Ighalo before the Nigerian striker sealed his last-gasp loan switch to Manchester United.

- Serie A champions Juventus are certain to maintain their interest in United star Paul Pogba and Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali, claims CalcioMercato.

- Arsenal made two January additions but boss Mikel Arteta still wants a holding midfielder to arrive before next season, reports The Athletic.

- Crystal Palace called off their deal for Nathan Ferguson after the West Brom defender's medical revealed a knee issue, according to the Evening Standard.

- MLS expansion side Nashville are set to capture West Ham defender Winston Reid on a six-month loan, reports the New Zealand Herald.

Barcelona signed Brazilian midfielder Matheus Fernandes and Portuguese forward Francisco Trincao on transfer deadline day, but both players must wait for their chance to shine at Camp Nou.

Fernandes will join Quique Setien's squad from Palmeiras in July after a €10million package was agreed for the 21-year-old, who has played for the Brazil Under-20 team.

Braga accepted a €31m offer from Barca for 20-year-old forward Trincao, and he will also formally join the Catalan club's ranks at the end of the season.

Both players have agreed five-year contracts, the Blaugrana announced, with Fernandes' contract including a €300m buy-out clause and Trincao's deal showing a €500m clause.

Braga will take Barca's 18-year-old striker Abel Ruiz on loan until the end of the season and then make the deal permanent for €8m, with the LaLiga club having a buy-back option.

Barca were not the only Spanish club busy in the market though, with Celta Vigo signing striker Fyodor Smolov on loan from Lokomotiv Moscow until the end of the season.

Atletico Madrid re-signed Belgian winger Yannick Carrasco, almost two years after he left to join Chinese side Dalian Yifang. The 26-year-old joined until the end of the season on loan.
 

STAYING PUT

Deadline day was as notable for the deals that looked to have fallen through as those that were completed.

Paris Saint-Germain ruled out allowing Edinson Cavani to leave, as a host of clubs fancied taking the Uruguayan off their hands, while Chelsea refused to let France striker Olivier Giroud depart Stamford Bridge.

Tottenham were among the clubs keen on Giroud, but Jose Mourinho looked like missing out on the striker he wanted to strengthen a front-line depleted by the loss of injured England captain Harry Kane.

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane said Gareth Bale would not be leaving the Santiago Bernabeu.

Manchester United remained linked with Bournemouth forward Joshua King, but time was running out for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to add new faces to his Old Trafford squad.

United made one signing, but it was a low-profile deal as England Under-20 goalkeeper Nathan Bishop arrived from third-tier Southend United.

Arsenal brought in defender Cedric Soares on loan from Southampton.

In Scotland, champions Celtic shipped out Scotland international Lewis Morgan to Major League Soccer side Inter Miami, who are part-owned by David Beckham.

Belgian side Genk allowed attacking midfielder Ianis Hagi, son of Romanian great Gheorghe Hagi, to join Scottish giants Rangers on loan.
 

KOUAME, DUNCAN IN

Serie A transfer activity was dominated by Fiorentina, who signed Ivorian forward Christian Kouame from Genoa, initially on loan. The deal will be made permanent at the end of the season.

They also brought in Ghanaian midfielder Alfred Duncan from Sassuolo in a similar deal, a loan with an obligation to buy.

Reports in Italy said Kevin-Prince Boateng was set to leave Fiorentina among the incomings, with Besiktas his destination. Turkish giants Besiktas also snapped up 18-year-old Croatian midfielder Ajdin Hasic from Dinamo Zagreb on permanent terms.

Atalanta agreed a loan deal with Nice, acquiring defender Adrien Tameze from the Ligue 1 outfit with a purchase option.

World Cup winner Steven Nzonzi cut short a season-long loan from Roma to Galatasaray, returning to his French homeland with Rennes on a six-month loan with an option for a further year.
 

HERTHA BUSY

In the Bundesliga, Emre Can left Juventus for Borussia Dortmund on Friday evening, initially on loan until the end of the campaign but with a €25m fee agreed for a potential permanent transfer.

Elsewhere, Hertha Berlin followed up Thursday's signing of Krzysztof Piatek by prising 20-year-old Brazilian winger Matheus Cunha from table-toppers RB Leipzig, for whom he scored nine goals in 52 games.

Hertha managing director Michael Preetz said on the club's website: "We wanted to increase the quantity and improve the quality up front, which we have been able to do with the Piatek and Cunha transfers."

Leipzig also offloaded Austrian midfielder Stefan Ilsanker to Eintracht Frankfurt. He spent four-and-a-half years at Leipzig, joining them in the second tier.

Werder Bremen signed striker Davie Selke on an 18-month loan from Hertha, the 25-year-old returning to the club where he began his professional career.

Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale are not in the Real Madrid squad for Saturday's LaLiga derby with Atletico Madrid.

Brazilian forward Rodrygo Goes also misses out on the 19-man squad, along with Brahim Diaz and Nacho Fernandez.

Head coach Zinedine Zidane had suggested Bale and Hazard could be involved in the match at the Santiago Bernabeu after some encouraging signs in training this week.

Hazard has been out since November with an ankle injury, while Bale was hurt in the 3-1 Copa del Rey triumph over Unionistas de Salamanca last week and missed wins over Real Valladolid and Real Zaragoza.

Bale had been linked with a deadline-day return to Tottenham but Zidane insisted on Friday he was "not contemplating" such a move.

Casemiro, Eder Militao and Isco have all returned to the Madrid squad for the clash with Diego Simeone's side.

Madrid are three points clear at the top of LaLiga after 21 matches, 10 points above Atleti, who sit in fifth place.

Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale are in contention to return for Real Madrid in Saturday's derby against Atletico Madrid.

Belgium forward Hazard was beginning to show signs of his best form after a big-money move from Chelsea before an ankle injury sustained in November curtailed his momentum, with a hamstring issue having seen him miss large chunks earlier in the campaign.

Hazard returned to training last week and head coach Zinedine Zidane said he could be involved in El Derbi, though did not make any guarantees.

When asked about his availability, Zidane replied: "Hazard has been training with us all week.

"He could be included but we will never take any risks."

Bale twisted his ankle in a 3-1 Copa del Rey triumph over Unionistas de Salamanca last week and missed wins over Real Valladolid and Real Zaragoza.

Zidane, though, again kept his cards close to his chest when asked if the Wales forward will face Atleti.

"It's the same question, I'm not going to say who's going to play because it's something personal," Zidane added. 

"All players are prepared and then we'll see what happens.

"We have 25 players and the good thing is that they are all involved. Then I am the one to choose because I am the coach. Since we have 25, the complicated thing is the call for the 18. All I want is for the players to be focused and prepared."

Bale's future at the Santiago Bernabeu was once again a topic of discussion with reports suggesting he could make a return to Tottenham on loan.

However, Zidane is not expecting such a scenario on deadline day.

"Gareth is here with us and I am counting on him. I am not contemplating this possibility," Zidane said.

Sergio Ramos is in line to make his return from injury after being included in the Real Madrid squad to face Real Valladolid on Sunday.

Madrid captain Ramos has been out of action since injuring his ankle in the penalty shoot-out victory over Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana final two weeks ago.

The 33-year-old was back in training on Thursday and completed a full session on Friday to earn a spot in Zinedine Zidane's 19-man group for Sunday's LaLiga outing.

Gareth Bale was not included due to an ankle problem, while Brahim Diaz – who impressed in the 3-1 win over Unionistas de Salamanca in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday – Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz were left out.

Following Barcelona's 2-0 loss at Valencia on Saturday, Madrid will go top of LaLiga if they get a point at Estadio Jose Zorilla.

Zinedine Zidane insists Gareth Bale is not a trouble-causer at Real Madrid, with the coach adamant he will always back his players.

Bale has become a target of vitriol from Madrid's fans and sections of the Spanish media in recent seasons, with the Wales forward – who has also struggled with injuries – having often fallen down the pecking order.

The 30-year-old also incurred the wrath of the local press and Los Blancos support when he celebrated with a flag bearing the message "WALES. GOLF. MADRID... IN THAT ORDER" following Wales' qualification for Euro 2020.

Having scored in Madrid's 3-1 Copa del Rey win over Unionistas de Salamanca on Wednesday, Bale will not be available for Sunday's LaLiga encounter with Real Vallodolid due to an ankle injury.

But, when asked why he has defended the player in the past, Zidane stated he has no issues with Bale, who has scored just three goals this season.

"I always defend my players. It's not that I need to. They train every day, they work hard and want to defend the Real Madrid badge," Zidane told a news conference.

"So I don't share the same opinion. It's true he's had a few injuries but you can't do anything when a player is injured.

"Hopefully he can string together more games, a few training sessions, get minutes under his belt and get back into playing and training at the same pace as his team-mates.

"When he is fit we want him to come back and be in good shape. It is a shame. He is not happy because he wants to be training with the side."

Zidane also refuted the suggestion Bale had exaggerated his injury as to not play against Vallodolid.

"I am always worried when a player is injured, it's something I don't like to see," Zidane said.

"I have 25 players here and it is tough to me because I have to pick a side, but I don't want players injured. Gareth's injury isn't serious, a slight sprain and he'll be back soon.

"You're entitled to think what you want, but when I am with the player, I have spoken to him and he wants to be with the team and wants to play, but the other day he suffered a slight injury."

Another Madrid player who is recovering from injury is Eden Hazard, who has returned to individual training. However, Zidane was unable to confirm if the Belgium international would be fit to feature against Atletico Madrid on February 1.

"I can't confirm a comeback date as he has just started training with the ball. There is very little or no pain there now," Zidane said.

"He will no doubt improve and hopefully be back with the team soon. It is excellent for the player to be able to train with the team, it's good for his morale and confidence, but I can't confirm a date."

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