Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane hailed his players for regrouping from their Champions League collapse by upstaging Barcelona in the LaLiga El Clasico.

Pressure was on Madrid following their 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester City in the opening leg of the Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday.

Madrid conceded twice in five minutes during the final 12 minutes in a stunning finish against City, however, Zidane's side bounced back with a 2-0 victory over Barca on Sunday.

Vinicius Junior and substitute Mariano Diaz scored in the second half at the Santiago Bernabeu as Madrid leapfrogged defending champions Barca atop the LaLiga table.

Zidane expressed his pride post-match, telling reporters: "The reaction today has been important. The dressing room is not touched. It was a complicated week, but we prepared this game well. That means the players are in and want.

"We played 78 very good minutes and in the end we lost. Today we win playing well from start to finish. We need to stick to what we believe, but we know that it will be hard until the very end. We need to prove ourselves every time we play."

"We deserved the victory because of everything we did both defensively and offensively," Zidane added. "The first half was even and our press up front was not perfect. In the second half we improved our press and we were better up top.

"We really pushed them hard and almost overwhelmed them. These are three important points because it has been a difficult week and today we had the opportunity to change that. It's three points and we regained the lead, but we're going to have to fight to the end.

"We're happy because we've all shown that we've done very well and I'm proud of them because it's not easy to win like this. Our strength today was very important. The first thing is to defend well together and then we know that at any moment we can have opportunities to score goals.

"The second half was ours. We had a lot of chances to score and we netted twice. We kept a clean sheet and [Thibaut] Courtois was instrumental in that. We won the game as a team today."

Vinicius – at the age of 19 years and 233 days – became the youngest Clasico goalscorer this century, surpassing Barca superstar Lionel Messi with his 71st-minute opener before Mariano completed the win in stoppage time.

"Vinicius was good and he scored an important goal in an important game. I'm happy for him. He was good offensively and defensively he did a great job helping Marcelo with [Nelson] Semedo," Zidane said.

"He has conditions, but he is very young and sometimes the criticism is difficult. He has to live with that because he is at Real Madrid."

Lionel Messi is set to become the player with the most appearances in El Clasico for Barcelona after being named in the starting line-up to take on Real Madrid on Sunday.

The Argentina superstar will edge past Xavi as he racks up his 43rd outing in the biggest domestic fixture in world football at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Messi is the fixture's leading goalscorer, having netted 26 times against Barca's great rivals.

Barca head into the match, Quique Setien's first Clasico at the helm, two points ahead of their rivals at the top of LaLiga.

The visitors boast a seven-match unbeaten run against Madrid in top-flight meetings, with the Camp Nou showdown in December having finished goalless.

While Barcelona's only change from the side that drew 1-1 with Napoli on Tuesday saw Arthur take Ivan Rakitic's place in midfield, Zinedine Zidane made two adjustments to the Madrid team that lost 2-1 to Manchester City in midweek.

Ferland Mendy and Luka Modric dropped to the bench as Marcelo returned at left back and Toni Kroos started in midfield, while Gareth Bale had to settle for a place among the substitutes.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane stressed Toni Kroos' absence from his team in midweek was a tactical decision and he told reporters to stop looking for another meaning behind the omission.

Germany international Kroos was surprisingly left out of Los Blancos' starting line-up for the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie against Manchester City, which Madrid lost 2-1.

The 30-year-old had started five of Madrid's six group games and Zidane confirmed after the loss that there was no injury, though Kroos did not even make it onto the pitch.

Madrid face Barcelona in Sunday's El Clasico, with Kroos training as normal on Saturday, and despite suggestions there could be a rift developing between player and coach, Zidane was quick to shut down such talk.

"Always when there is a bad result you look for something," he told reporters.

"We did not lose because he didn't play.

"There are things that can happen in a specific moment, in a match, and we have chosen this team.

"Those who came in played well and I chose a different alternative to Toni Kroos the other day. There's nothing else.

"You do not have to look for other things."

Luka Modric, Casemiro and Federico Valverde all started in midfield against City, with Kroos having started in Madrid's previous two LaLiga games, neither of which they won.

Zidane's side host Barcelona on Sunday knowing a third successive defeat in all competitions would leave them five points behind the leaders in the title race.

 

Zinedine Zidane claimed he has given little thought to whether his job security hinges on winning LaLiga as Real Madrid bid to get back on track against Barcelona on Sunday.

Madrid go into the latest Clasico having won just one of their past five games in all competitions, with the LaLiga loss at Levante followed up by a home midweek defeat to Manchester City in the Champions League.

Should they crash to a third straight loss in Sunday's crucial game at the Santiago Bernabeu, reigning champions Barca would go five points clear in the title race with 12 games remaining.

Madrid are already out of the Copa del Rey and face a big task to avoid exiting the Champions League at the last-16 stage, yet Zidane said he is not worried about whether he needs to win LaLiga to stay in his job.

"I don't know, that question is for someone else," he said at a news conference on Saturday.

"I know what I need to do. We're going to try and win a competition this season, that's what we're working towards."

Barca will arrive in the Spanish capital buoyed by the fact they have not lost a league Clasico at the Bernabeu since 2014.

Moreover, Madrid are winless in three games at home, with Zidane acknowledging the situation is far from ideal ahead of a fixture with their big rivals.

"It is a delicate moment because there are three games that we have not won in the stadium," the Frenchman admitted.

"But the ones who know about football know that these things can happen.

"We need a positive spirit. We do not listen to what is said. We need our people with us from the first minute to 90.

"I understand that the people may be upset but we need the people and we will give everything."

Part of the problem has been a lack of goals.

Top scorer Karim Benzema has not found the net in his previous five appearances and Sergio Ramos is the only other Madrid player to have scored more than three times in the league.

Though Eden Hazard will be absent due to injury, and Gareth Bale has gone almost an entire year without scoring at home, Zidane highlighted how Madrid were unbeaten between October and February.

"I am not worried because for four months we were winning games," he said of the lack of goals.

"Even without Eden. I don't like that he is injured, but we have won. We need to be solid."

Zinedine Zidane lamented Real Madrid's loss of concentration against Manchester City but insisted the Champions League last-16 tie is far from over following a 2-1 defeat.

Madrid collapsed at home to Pep Guardiola's City, who scored twice in five minutes late in the second half to snatch the momentum after the opening leg on Wednesday.

Winners of four of the past six Champions League titles, LaLiga giants Madrid earned a 1-0 lead courtesy of Isco on the hour-mark at the Santiago Bernabeu.

But Madrid saw their advantage crumble away as Gabriel Jesus headed in a 78th-minute equaliser before Kevin De Bruyne completed the comeback via the penalty spot five minutes later, with Sergio Ramos' late red card compounding Zidane's woes.

"We're gutted to have lost, but we know the tie is over 180 minute and no matter what happens that's the way it is," head coach Zidane told reporters. "Even if we'd won. We did the hard work scoring, and then in 10 minutes they scored two."

Madrid captain Ramos will miss the return leg in Manchester after bringing down Jesus with four minutes remaining and Zidane said: "That's football. We can't change it. We need to focus on the positives.

"In a result like that there aren't many positive things, we played well but for the last 10 or 15 minutes. Now we need to go there and win if we want to go through."

"They are mistakes and you pay when you make mistakes," Zidane continued. "That's it. But mistakes are a part of football and that's the way it is.

"We gave everything on the pitch, we lacked 10 minutes of concentration more. It was a very physical, even game and at the end we paid for it."

Madrid, who have only won one of their past five fixtures across all competitions, will travel to the Etihad Stadium to face City on March 17.

The tension was palpable as Kevin De Bruyne stepped up to take his penalty at the Santiago Bernabeu.

No doubt Manchester City's issues from the spot were going through the Belgian's mind – he had even been asked about the apparent problem after Sergio Aguero's miss against Leicester City was their fourth successive spot-kick failure.

But there needn't have been any worries in the heads of City fans, players or coaching staff. De Bruyne coolly slotted to his left, calmly placing his kick right into the bottom corner with the kind of assuredness we have come to expect from the midfield dynamo.

It was a just reward for an exceptional display from De Bruyne, who was the driving force behind much of City's best moves, laying on an unmatched four key passes.

Understandably De Bruyne will take many of the plaudits following City's impressive 2-1 win at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Gabriel Jesus more than played his part with a selfless, yet similarly crucial role.

The Brazilian was picked ahead of City's all-time leading scorer, Aguero, causing many-an-eyebrow to raise pre-match and concerning some fans after Thomas Muller's recent suggestion Pep Guardiola overthinks his selections ahead of the biggest games.

When asked if it was a reward for scoring the winner against Leicester after replacing Aguero from the bench late on, Guardiola denied it but kept his cards close to his chest.

Although initially appearing to be lining up as a lone frontman, Jesus started the contest from the left and worked tirelessly on the flank, tracking back but also proving a lively presence in attack.

The 22-year-old ended up with four shots – no one on the pitch had more – despite being asked to play such a role, one akin to the job Wayne Rooney was often tasked with performing for Manchester United on the biggest occasions.

Jesus' locale on the left actually led to him carving out the first chance of the match as he darted into the box from his wide position, cut inside Sergio Ramos and shot at Thibaut Courtois.

On this occasion the finish didn't quite live up to the build-up play.

Playing from the left is by no means a new phenomenon for Jesus, having done so on many occasions as a youngster with Palmeiras and Brazil's youth teams.

But performing such a role in the Champions League, away to Real Madrid, is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Jesus' work ethic was highlighted by the fact no one on the pitch engaged in more duels (14) than him. Eight players were involved in 10 or more, but none came out on top more often than the City forward (57 per cent).

He also completed two tackles, a figure bettered by no one, and two interceptions – only three players made more.

But to only focus on that side of Jesus' performance would be doing him a huge disservice.

De Bruyne was the single player to produce more than Jesus' three key passes, while he was there in the right place at the right time to score City's equaliser.

Peeling away from Ramos and cheekily giving him a slight nudge to maximise the space, Jesus headed De Bruyne's 78th-minute delivery into the ground and the bounce helped in deceiving Courtois as the Brazilian made light of the cross' lack of pace.

He might have got himself a second goal as he darted in behind Ramos four minutes from time, but he at least succeeded in luring the Spanish centre-back into earning the 26th red card of his professional career.

Guardiola made a bold move in selecting Jesus ahead of the ever-reliable Aguero, but the Argentinian could never have produced a comparable display in such a role.

Jesus more than justified Guardiola's faith – his industriousness and work ethic effectively inspiring one of the most famous results in City's history.

Manchester City completed a stunning comeback at the Santiago Bernabeu as Kevin De Bruyne's penalty secured a 2-1 victory over Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Despite being the better side for much of a frenetic encounter in Spain, City – who lost Aymeric Laporte to injury in the first half – looked set to be heading for a defeat when Isco put Madrid ahead on the hour.

But De Bruyne, a peripheral figure in the first half, led the fightback, supplying the cross from which Gabriel Jesus headed home an equaliser before coolly slotting in from 12 yards after Dani Carvajal had brought down substitute Raheem Sterling.

And Madrid's frustrations were compounded with four minutes remaining, captain Sergio Ramos seeing red for a last-man challenge on Jesus as City secured a lead to take back to Manchester.

Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero have been named on the bench by Pep Guardiola for the first leg of Manchester City's Champions League last-16 tie with Real Madrid.

Sterling has missed the majority of February due to a thigh strain, but Guardiola confirmed on Tuesday the 25-year-old – who has five Champions League goals to his name this season – would be fit to return at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The England forward has only been deemed fit enough to take a place among the substitutes however, and he is joined on the bench by City's leading scorer, Aguero.

Gabriel Jesus, who replaced Aguero and scored the winning goal against Leicester City on Saturday, starts up front in one of two changes to City's team – the Brazil international has scored four goals in five Champions League games this term.

Jesus' compatriot Fernandinho is a surprise omission, with Nicolas Otamendi partnering Aymeric Laporte at the back.

Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane, meanwhile, has made three alterations to his side following a 1-0 defeat at Levante last time out.

Toni Kroos is replaced by Federico Valverde in midfield, while Ferland Mendy is in for Marcelo at left-back and the injured Eden Hazard makes way for Vinicius Junior, who is preferred to Gareth Bale.

Karim Benzema leads Madrid's line and will become the sixth player to make 100 Champions League appearances for the club, with Sergio Ramos making a record 124th start.

Zinedine Zidane hailed Pep Guardiola as the best coach in the world but insisted Real Madrid's clash with Manchester City is not a battle between the two men in the dugout.

Wednesday's Champions League last-16 first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu will mark the first time the managerial pair have faced off in a competitive match.

Zidane has won the competition three times as Madrid boss, while the second and most recent of Guardiola's successes came at Barcelona nine years ago.

However, the Frenchman has labelled his counterpart as the best in the business ahead of the midweek clash.

"He's shown it at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City," Zidane said at his pre-match news conference. "There are a lot of good coaches, but I think it's him [at the top].

"But it's Real Madrid v Manchester City, not Zidane vs Guardiola. What people want to see is a game of football between Madrid and City. It's an attractive game."

Madrid enter the match on the back of disappointing run of domestic form that has seen them exit the Copa del Rey and relinquish top spot in LaLiga.

By comparison, City have won back-to-back matches since being rocked by UEFA's announcement that they face a two-year ban from European competitions for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations – pending an appeal.

But Zidane has won all nine two-legged Champions League ties he has been involved in and has urged his players not to dwell on the recent defeats to Real Sociedad and Levante.

"We know the quality of the opponent that we're going to face," he said. "They're a very good team and they will come to play their way.

"What we have to do is play a very good match. We have to think about what we've been doing well and not focus on the two games with negative results we've had. We have to play well tomorrow.

"There are lot of teams who like to have the ball. Every side you play against is always going to have certain strengths, and it's our job to cancel them out. 

"City are a side with many strengths, including possession. But it's also about what we do - that's what we're interested in."

Zinedine Zidane is unsure if Eden Hazard will play again this season but has justified Real Madrid's handling of the forward's ankle injury problems following his latest lay-off.

The Belgium international hobbled off in the second half of Madrid's 1-0 loss to Levante on Saturday and scans the following day confirmed he suffered a hairline fracture to his right ankle.

Madrid did not put a timeframe on his return, but it marked a huge blow ahead of this week's Champions League encounter with Manchester City and the Clasico clash with Barcelona.

And Zidane does not know if the 29-year-old - who had only just returned from a three-month absence with a similar issue - will be fit before the end of the campaign.

"I can't tell you. It is hard to say," he said at a news conference ahead of Wednesday's last-16 first leg with City.

"We don't know if he will be operated on, but he's obviously not happy. He had been out for almost three months and then played two games and picked up an injury.

"Obviously it is very bad news for him, but I can't tell you if he's going to be back before the season is over."

Madrid are reportedly deliberating over whether to operate on Hazard, who is set to miss more action for Los Blancos in his maiden campaign than he did in seven seasons with former side Chelsea.

However, Zidane insists it is not a straightforward call to make and is simply hoping to see a fully fit Hazard back in action sooner rather than later.

"I'm not the right person to tell you what should have been done and what shouldn't have," he said. "Obviously we are not happy about his injury. 

"It comes at bad moment and I feel bad for him because he wanted to play and help us and now he's out again. It is sad of course. 

"I just hope when he's back again he's absolutely fit. That's what he wants and what we want. But it's a tough moment for him.

"I can't tell you what I see in his eyes but I can tell you he's not happy. It's very important for him to stay positive but it is a bad moment for him. 

"It won't be easy and he will feel like that for some time. He loves being with us and helping us - that won't change - but knowing he can't play right now is very bad news for him."

Eden Hazard's availability for Real Madrid's crunch fixtures against Manchester City and Barcelona appears in doubt after Zinedine Zidane admitted his latest injury "doesn't look good".

The Belgium forward hobbled off in the second half of the 1-0 loss to Levante on Saturday and he could be seen on the bench receiving treatment on his lower right leg.

Hazard only recently returned from a fractured right ankle so the sight of him appearing to have another problem in the same area was alarming for Zidane.

Madrid face Pep Guardiola's City in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday before a Clasico date with new LaLiga leaders Barcelona next weekend.

"It doesn't look good," Zidane told reporters at a news conference.

"It can become weak where you've had an injury. It is a blow, let's see.

"It's sore now but we'll see tomorrow when we do more tests."

It was a thoroughly miserable outing for Madrid as they suffered a surprise defeat thanks to Jose Luis Morales' stunning late effort.

Madrid drew 2-2 with Celta Vigo at home in their previous outing and they will host Barcelona next Sunday knowing they are now two points behind their great rivals in the title race.

Captain Sergio Ramos revealed the level of frustration he was feeling in a social media post.

"We're p***ed off," he wrote on Twitter.

"But we can't allow our heads to drop.

"We have to reset now and tomorrow push harder than ever before for a very important week. We're counting on you."

Eden Hazard hobbled off during Real Madrid's LaLiga game at Levante on Saturday - giving Zinedine Zidane a major injury concern ahead of a crucial week for the club.

The Belgium international, who has only recently returned from a fractured ankle, was clearly in pain as he was replaced by Vinicius Junior in the 67th minute with the score at 0-0.

Hazard could be seen sitting on the visitors' bench receiving treatment to his lower right leg, with Zidane now waiting to discover the full extent of the problem ahead of two huge home fixtures.

Madrid, who went on to lose 1-0 to Levante, host Manchester City on Wednesday in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie, followed by the visit of title rivals Barcelona in league action next Sunday.

Hazard was making just his second outing since requiring surgery on his right ankle after he was hurt against Paris Saint-Germain on November 2.

His debut campaign in the Spanish capital got off to a delayed start following a thigh injury in pre-season, forcing him to wait until September 14 to make his debut following his arrival from Chelsea in June.

Zinedine Zidane defended Gareth Bale's performance against Celta Vigo, yet the Wales forward has not been included in Real Madrid's squad for the trip to Levante.

Bale started and played 84 minutes on Sunday, as Madrid were held to a 2-2 home draw by Celta, who equalised late on through Santi Mina.

"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 said in the wake of the draw.

However, Bale will not get the chance to continue in Madrid's XI this week after he was left out of the squad for the clash with Levante.

The 30-year-old has reportedly been struggling with a stomach bug, which meant he was unable to train on Wednesday.

Striker Luka Jovic has also missed out – with the Serbia international reportedly suffering from the same issue – while Rodrygo and Nacho do not feature in the 19-man squad.

Eden Hazard, who made his comeback from injury against Celta, is included.

Madrid have been boosted by the return to non-contact training of Marco Asensio, who has missed the entirety of the season due to a knee ligament injury.

Zinedine Zidane thinks Raheem Sterling is a quality player but is not interested in discussing a possible Real Madrid bid for the Manchester City star.

In an interview with Madrid publication AS, Sterling described Los Blancos as "a fantastic club" and suggested he could be interested in playing at the Santiago Bernabeu, although he made it clear he is happy at City.

With Pep Guardiola's side facing a ban from European competition pending the outcome of a planned appeal, the future of Sterling is likely to intensify over the coming weeks, particularly with Madrid and City meeting in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Madrid head coach Zidane is undoubtedly an admirer of Sterling, but he seems disinclined to encourage speculation.

"I can't talk about a player who isn't mine," he told reporters on Friday. "He's a very good player, no doubt about that."

Madrid face Levante in LaLiga on Saturday before their attentions turn to City next week.

One player hoping to impress is Rodrygo, who has not made a league appearance since January 26.

"He hasn't been in the last three squads, but we know he's an important player for us and when everyone is there, you have to select a squad," Zidane said of the Brazilian.

"That's all it is, because we're happy with him. He's shown he's very good."

Madrid captain Sergio Ramos is said to be at an impasse in talks over a new contract, with Madrid reportedly unwilling to match their captain's request for a two-year extension.

Zidane, though, expects a new deal to be agreed without too much complication and is even backing the defender in his desire to represent Spain at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

"Sergio's renewal looks easy to me. I want Sergio with me. He's our captain, our leader and an example as a player," he said.

"He's very important for all Madridistas, for the players...

"He should go, of course [to the Olympics]. I will support him. It's very beautiful to play for your country."

Raheem Sterling has described Real Madrid as "a fantastic club" amid speculation over his Manchester City future.

The LaLiga giants have been linked with a move for the 25-year-old over the past two seasons, but City's looming ban from Europe has fuelled those rumours further.

Sterling insists he is happy at City, where he has won two Premier League titles, two EFL Cups and the FA Cup since moving from Liverpool in 2015, but he cannot disguise his admiration for Zinedine Zidane's side.

"Right now, I'm at City and I'm really happy," Sterling told Madrid sports publication AS.

"But I say Real Madrid are a fantastic club. When you see the white shirt, you know exactly what the club stands for. It's massive. But at the same time, I have a contract with City now and I have to respect this. But it's a fantastic club.

"No one knows what the future will hold. I am a player and I am always open to challenges but right now my challenge is at Manchester City. In the future, hopefully, who knows..."

City were given a two-season ban from European competition by UEFA after being found guilty of breaching Financial Fair Play regulations, although the club insist they have done nothing wrong and intend to appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Speaking on the issue, Sterling said: "It's something we don't know much about yet because it's something that has not been confirmed. The club has a long way to go and we just have to wait and see what happens, but I have full confidence in the club."

City face Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League, with the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu taking place next Wednesday.

Sterling is relishing the challenge of facing the 14-time champions of Europe and does not think there is anything lucky about Zidane having led Madrid to three consecutive Champions League triumphs from 2016 to 2018.

"We had a good reaction when we knew that they will be our rival," said the England star. "If you want to do well I think the best thing you have to do is to play against the best teams straight away and there is no better challenge than Real Madrid.

"It is always going to be a difficult game whether they are in a good or a bad moment, just because of the atmosphere, the historical stadium that we are going to...

"It's going to be a difficult game, especially now that they are doing really well, but at the same time I’ve got full confidence in our team and if we get it right on the day, I believe we can win.

"I think to win the Champions League so many times, especially in a row as well, is very difficult. I don't think that's luck; it's definitely a formula. Some people have that winning mentality and he wins by any means. So I wouldn't say that it's luck, I'd say it's something he has probably developed over his great career as a player and he's developing his career as a manager, so it continues this winning touch."

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