Zinedine Zidane does not expect Barcelona to be weakened by the off-field unrest that has blighted Real Madrid's LaLiga title rivals this week.

A potentially damaging row has broken out at Camp Nou after Barca star Lionel Messi hit back at director of football Eric Abidal, who suggested some players were not working hard enough prior to Ernesto Valverde's dismissal as coach.

Messi went public with his response in an Instagram post directly referencing Abidal's comments in which he wrote: "When talking about players we should give names, because if not we are all getting dirtied and feeding things that are said but aren't true".

The situation is so serious that former Barca winger Francisco Jose 'Lobo' Carrasco claimed Messi could be on the brink of exiting the club.

But Zidane did not want to wade in on the issue, which he does not believe will derail Barca's season.

Asked if Madrid could take advantage of their Clasico rivals' plight, the Frenchman said: "It's never like that, it's not about that.

"They're not going to be weak, they're a very competitive team. We're not thinking about that for one minute.

"They will compete with us until the end of the season. Good players are always good."

Turning his attention to his own team, who won the Madrid derby last time out and facing Real Sociedad in the quarter-final of the Copa del Rey on Thursday.

Zidane – who also declined to comment on Kylian Mbappe's apparent discontentment at Paris Saint-Germain ​– added: "We have good momentum, we have to keep going in the same way.

"There's a long way to go yet, we haven't won anything yet and that's what it's all about. You can be happy when you've won something, but we haven't won anything yet."

Madrid beat Sociedad 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu in November and welcome them back for a one-off clash in a competition they have not won since 2014.

Zidane anticipates a tough match against a side who sit eighth in LaLiga.

"It's like a final," he said. "It's not like a quarter-final, It's just one game.

"I don't think they're going to come here and give an inch. We have to be really focused, switched on right from the start.

"It's a really good team, as they've shown all season. They play really good football. It's a team that's going to come here and try to do things well."

Zidane refused to confirm if Eden Hazard would be involved following his lengthy absence with an ankle injury.

Zinedine Zidane accepted responsibility for Real Madrid's sluggish display in the first half of their derby victory over Atletico Madrid.

Karim Benzema's goal early in the second half secured a 1-0 win for Los Blancos at Santiago Bernabeu, extending Madrid's lead over second-placed Barcelona to six points.

However, Madrid were certainly second best before the break and were fortunate not to have gone behind, with Vitolo going close and Angel Correa hitting the woodwork.

Zidane made two changes at the break, introducing Vinicius Jr - who played a key part in Benzema's winner - and Lucas Vazquez, with Federico Valverde, who had started out wide, moving inside.

"I was not happy with what I saw on the pitch in the first half. But it was not the players' fault, it was my responsibility," Zidane told a news conference.

"So I changed Isco and Toni [Kroos], but it could have been another two. A change was needed.

"Five in midfield has worked before. But not today, we found it hard to get into the game, were not good with the ball. But in the end when things are not working, you must change it, I am here for that too.

"We began the second half in a different way, opening up the pitch, pressuring up high. We were better in everything, we deserved to win and take the three points. We cannot always play really well from the first minute."

Madrid are clear in LaLiga and also into the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey, while they face Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Zidane, though, would not be drawn on any talk of a potential domestic and European treble.

"No. We are just happy to have won a difficult game today," ZIdane said. "We have many difficult games left, in the Copa, LaLiga and Champions League. We've won nothing yet, just the Supercopa, and the path is very long."

Atleti's defeat means they have now lost three of their last four matches in all competitions and are 13 points behind their city rivals in LaLiga.

"We are worried by the situation, for sure," Diego Simeone told a news conference.

"We know we need to work hard to turn things around. We will be getting back players soon, and need to keep competing in the league and Champions League."

Real Madrid moved six points clear of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga as Karim Benzema's goal proved enough to claim a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid.

Both previous derbies between the sides this season - one in LaLiga and one in the Supercopa de Espana final - had finished 0-0 but Saturday's encounter finally bucked the trend.

Having held out somewhat in the first half, Madrid, who were buoyed by a double change from Zinedine Zidane at half-time, broke the deadlock through Benzema's first home goal against Atleti.

Substitute Vinicius Junior went close to capping a fine performance with a goal late on, but Madrid's failure to add another did not prove costly as they ended Atleti's six-match unbeaten run at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Sergio Ramos scored the winning penalty in Los Blancos' shootout victory in the Supercopa final last month and Madrid's captain twice went close to opening the scoring in the first 10 minutes, but sliced over on both occasions.

Ramos had some defending to do in the 18th minute, reacting sharply to clear Madrid's lines after Thibaut Courtois had kept out Vitolo's strike.

Courtois was beaten soon after, yet Angel Correa's effort clipped the upright, before Casemiro was fortunate his desperate lunge on Alvaro Morata did not lead to a penalty.

Zidane rolled the dice at the break, introducing Vinicius and Lucas Vazquez in place of Toni Kroos and Isco, moving Federico Valverde inside and the decision almost paid immediate dividends as the midfielder forced Jan Oblak into a fine save with a superb long-range effort.

However, Zidane's changes did prove decisive in the 56th minute - Vinicius drawing three Atleti defenders in before releasing Ferland Mendy, whose cross was side-footed home by Benzema.

Oblak then denied Vinicius to keep Atleti in the game, though the visitors could not make it count as their dismal start to 2020 continued.

 

What does it mean? Madrid put the pressure on Barca

Quique Setien's Barca are in action against Levante at Camp Nou on Sunday and know they must respond to prevent Madrid - who are unbeaten in 13 LaLiga matches - from ending the weekend with an increased lead at the summit.

Atleti, meanwhile, have lost three of their four matches across all competitions since the Supercopa final.

Vinicius sparks Madrid

Zidane's experiment of playing Valverde in a wide role in the first half was a failure, but the Frenchman spotted his mistake. Vinicius came on, adding width, pace and skill to Madrid's attack and, ultimately, played a pivotal role in Benzema's winner.

Simeone's time at Atleti winding down?

Atleti's defeat leaves them 13 points behind Los Blancos and their main aim now will be securing Champions League qualification. Despite plenty of money having been pumped into the squad, it seems Diego Simeone's impact finally seems to be wearing off and perhaps a change may be needed ahead of next season.

What's next?

Real Sociedad await Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday, while Atleti face Granada in their next LaLiga outing two days later.

 

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.

Yannick Carrasco has re-joined Atletico Madrid from Dalian Yifang on loan until the end of the season and Diego Simeone has not ruled out further deadline-day arrivals.

Belgium international Carrasco trained with Atletico prior to confirmation of the deal being announced on Friday and coach Simeone hopes to be able to call upon him in the LaLiga meeting with rivals Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

The 26-year-old joined Atletico from Monaco in 2015 and left for Chinese Super League side Dalian in February 2018, but Simeone is pleased to have him back.

"[Carrasco] is excited and wants to be here," said Simeone. "If the paperwork is done, he will certainly be with us [against Madrid].

"I want him to come with the same commitment we spoke about on the telephone. I liked Yannick's desire to come to Atletico. That is an important step for what can happen next."


Atletico reportedly failed with an €18million bid for Edinson Cavani, whose contract at Paris Saint-Germain will expire at the end of the season, but there may still be new additions on deadline day.

"There are still a few hours left. Anything can happen," said Simeone.

The Atleti boss has been subject to increasing criticism in recent weeks, with his team falling 10 points behind LaLiga leaders Madrid and suffering elimination from the Copa del Rey to third-tier Cultural Leonesa.

Zinedine Zidane spoke out in support of his cross-city counterpart on Friday and Simeone was thankful for his words.

"It's nice when a colleague of Zidane's quality thinks this way. I return the message," said the Argentine.

"He is the ideal coach for Madrid. He has the rank and the ability to do what he feels. He returned to compete like he had before he left.

"Madrid have improved a lot defensively. They are very strong. They have many options in attack and that allows him to play with different players.

"It will be a match where the details and intelligence will have a lot of dominance."

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.

Zinedine Zidane declared Lucas Vazquez has "all my love" after the winger impressed in Real Madrid's comprehensive 4-0 beating of Real Zaragoza.

The Spain international emphatically hammered home Madrid's second after Raphael Varane's early opener, with second-half goals from Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema sending Los Blancos into the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

Vazquez has not always enamoured himself to the Madrid faithful with many questioning his role in the team, but Zidane remains a big fan of the 28-year-old's qualities.

"The important thing is what I think of him. He has all my love, I believe in Lucas because he is also a lovely boy who gives everything on the field," Zidane said.

"Then people can give their opinion and you have to accept it. He is a player who came through the youth team and what people want is to see their player give everything on the field and Lucas gives it."

Toni Kroos put in a typically stylish performance in the heart of Madrid's midfield, contributing assists for the first two goals at La Romareda.

Zidane was impressed by the Germany international's showing but was keen to praise the collective effort of his side, who sit top of LaLiga.

"I'm glad for him. Toni is an example and is very good, but what should be highlighted is the work of the whole team," he added. 

"In the end for a coach it is important to see a complete game from the group. We can change players and in the end they all do well."

Zinedine Zidane has defended Real Madrid's style of play and insisted he will not change his coaching methods amid recent criticism.

Nacho Fernandez was the unlikely match-winner in Sunday's 1-0 victory over Real Valladolid as Madrid won a third LaLiga game in a row to open a three-point lead over Barcelona at the summit.

None of Madrid's six league goals in 2020 have been scored by attackers and they struggled to create chances at Estadio Jose Zorrilla.

But Zidane, who recently acknowledged he may have enjoyed a fair share of luck as a coach, is happy for his side to continue grinding out victories.

"I don't think the Bernabeu would accept a thousand passes without a shot," he said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"Everyone has their own style of play. I played at the Bernabeu and what the fans want to see is their team give their all on the field. It has always been that way.

"When fans see the team sweat for the shirt, that's the most important thing in the end because you can't always win.

"I always say the same - I will not change. The important thing is the club have given me the chance to train these players. It is a great team and I am lucky to be here.

"Two months ago things were not going well and there was a lot of criticism - that is not going to change. What we want is to continue what we are doing."

Madrid are unbeaten in 19 matches in all competitions and travel to Real Zaragoza in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

Los Blancos have won the competition on just two occasions since 1993 and Zidane is desperate to improve on that underwhelming return.

"I don't think it's a lack of motivation," he said. "I think the motivation is very high. 

"We must accept that Madrid have won 13 Champions Leagues and we want to change our history in the Copa del Rey.

"Zaragoza are going to make it difficult for us. We want to give our all on the field. We will not be surprised by them because we know it will be difficult - it is always that way."

Gareth Bale returned to full training on Tuesday after missing the weekend win over Valladolid with an ankle issue, while Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio continued to train away from the team.

Asked if Bale could return to the side in midweek, Zidane said: "I have a list of players and later you will see. Everyone wants to be available for the coach.

"Hazard has started working on the pitch again, but not yet with the team. We will see this week how he is managing his recovery.

"Before attacking, we must defend and be intense, we are doing quite well but you always have to be ready to prove it."

Zinedine Zidane called for improvements in Real Madrid's finishing after his side needed a late Nacho goal to clinch a 1-0 victory over Real Valladolid at Estadio Jose Zorrilla on Sunday.

Nacho connected with a Toni Kroos cross to head Madrid in front after 78 minutes of a tightly contested match to earn Zidane's men a win that moved them three points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Zidane praised his defence after Valladolid failed to register a shot on target but said more creativity is required to ensure struggling opponents are beaten more convincingly.

"Defensively, what we are doing, we are doing well. It is our strength," Zidane told reporters. 

"We defend all and when we lose the ball we recover it very high, and if we keep it we have a good chance of scoring.

"Nacho scored and that is part of football. We know that we can improve in this aspect.

"Nacho is a professional. When he has to compete he does well. I'm glad for his goal; he doesn't usually score them but from time-to-time we can also create chances for defenders."

Zidane refused to be drawn on his side's title chances despite opening up a gap over rivals Barcelona, who lost 2-0 to Valencia on Saturday.

Madrid have been beaten only once in the league this season but with 17 games remaining, including the visit of Barcelona on March 1, Zidane predicted a tough road ahead.

"For us, nothing changes," said Zidane. "We are happy with the victory, the work done having fought until the end, but nothing changes. There are 17 games left and we will continue fighting until the end.

"I don't want to talk about being champions because there is still a lot left to play.

"It changes nothing to be leaders, they are three important points but nothing more.

"There are a lot of league games left and it will be difficult for all teams, including us."

Madrid's next game is at home to city rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

 

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."

Eden Hazard has returned to training after a lengthy injury lay-off, while Real Madrid have also been able to welcome Sergio Ramos back into the fold.

Hazard signed from Chelsea in June but missed a chunk earlier in the season due to a hamstring injury and has been out of action since November with an ankle issue.

The forward has been restricted to just 13 appearances across all competitions for Los Blancos, scoring one goal.

However, Hazard is now edging closer to making his comeback after returning to Madrid training on Thursday, running on the grass as well as performing exercises with the ball, according to the club's official website.

It seems unlikely that Hazard will be fit to feature against Real Valladolid on Sunday, though Madrid will be hopeful of having the Belgium international back by the time Atletico Madrid visit Santiago Bernabeu on February 1.

Madrid were also boosted by the return of captain Ramos, who has not played since injuring his ankle in the Supercopa de Espana final, in which he scored the winning penalty against Atleti, though the defender did not work with the ball during Thursday's session.

France will target Zinedine Zidane to replace Didier Deschamps when the World Cup-winning coach departs, FFF president Noel Le Graet revealed.

Real Madrid head coach Zidane has been linked with the France post previously, but he returned to the Santiago Bernabeu last year.

Meanwhile, Deschamps, in charge of the national team since 2012, last month signed a contract extension to stay in his role through to the 2022 World Cup.

The France boss has championed his former team-mate as a future coach of Les Bleus, though, and chief Le Graet is also keen.

"The day Didier decides to leave or his contract is not renewed, if Zidane is available at that time, he will be the man for the job," Le Graet told Canal+.

That opportunity could come as soon as 2022, as Deschamps' position beyond the Qatar World Cup is uncertain.

"There is Qatar," Le Graet said. "Didier will be there and then, maybe afterwards, I don't know."

Deschamps and Zidane won the 1998 World Cup together as players, before the former Juventus coach led his country to a second success two years ago in Russia.

Zidane won three consecutive Champions League titles in his first stint as Madrid coach, later returning when the LaLiga giants were struggling last year.

Gareth Bale will be monitored after suffering a minor ankle twist on his impressive return to Real Madrid's starting side, head coach Zidane Zidane confirmed on Wednesday.

Bale scored the opener in a 3-1 Copa del Rey win over Unionistas de Salamanca but was unable to continue beyond the 53rd minute midweek.

Wales star Bale, who has battled injury and illness this season, was making his first appearance since the LaLiga victory against Getafe on January 4.

"He's twisted his ankle a bit," Zidane said. "I don't think it's much but, as always, we'll see tomorrow. He couldn't go on."

Bale's forced withdrawal appeared to unsettle Madrid, who conceded a stunning equaliser four minutes later as Alvaro Romero surged forward and fired past goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.

Juan Gongora's own goal after the hour and a late Brahim Diaz strike saved Zidane's men from an upset and extended their winning streak to five games in all competitions.

The Los Blancos boss insisted he was satisfied despite flirting with a premature exit against the third-tier minnows.

"It was a tough night at a tough place to come and play," he said.

"We struggled with moving the ball and we didn't see much great football, but that was down to the pitch, not more than that.

"We're pleased because in the end we're going through to the last-16 and that's what we came to achieve."

Madrid - level on points with leaders and defending champions Barcelona - visit Real Valladolid in LaLiga on Sunday.

Zinedine Zidane expects a difficult Copa del Rey tie against minnows Unionistas de Salamanca but says his Real Madrid side will be well prepared for a wintry test.

Madrid visit Salamanca, who play at 4,000-capacity Las Pistas - a ground which was covered in snow on Tuesday.

Wednesday's match is a huge clash for the Segunda B side and Zidane is fully prepared for a tough evening.

However, the Madrid head coach insists playing at such a small venue and on a difficult pitch will be nothing new for Los Blancos' star-studded squad.

"We have to be totally concentrated, we have to do what we've been doing until now. We have to be ready for the game," Zidane, who confirmed Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez will be available, told a media conference.

"Our players have started out playing on pitches like this, me as well. Difficulties out on the pitch that you're not used to. Mentally we're prepared and in a sporting sense as well.

"We know where we're going to play and what to expect. Perhaps it's 10 or 15 years ago but we've all played on pitches like this, so we're prepared.

"We have to do what we have to do. We have to be ready, it's a cup game and we have to give everything. We know the situation, know where we're going to play, but it's a game of football and our duty is to be ready.

"We're like that not just in every game, but every training session. From day to day we have to be ready for these types of games. It's a very important game."

The Copa del Rey used to have two legs throughout each round but its schedule has been reduced, with the tournament changed to a single-match format until the semi-finals.

"From my experience in France it was always one game and that's it, so my custom is to play one game," Zidane said, when asked if the new format left Madrid with less margin for error.

"Now it's here in Spain and we have to accept that, it's one game and out. So you have to accept it and go and play it like that."

One player who seems unlikely to be involved on Wednesday is Alvaro Odriozola, with the defender having reportedly not trained amid reports he is about to join Bayern Munich on loan.

Zidane did not reveal which clubs are interested in signing Odriozola, but he confirmed the full-back could leave Madrid this month.

"He has an option to go and play elsewhere but nothing is official yet, we're going to wait and see," said Zidane, who may consider recalling Jesus Vallejo from his loan at Wolves.

"The option of Alvaro going is a possibility, it's not official. I'm not going to get rid of one to sign someone else. We've got a big squad and an option could be [bringing back] Vallejo but we don't know yet."

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