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."

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."

Real Madrid's most memorable attacking moment during the first half of their title-race twisting 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo was Sergio Ramos launching into one of his driving runs in search of a goal, only to volley the ball into his own face when it arrived.

This botched attack had a claim beyond slapstick, given Zinedine Zidane's LaLiga leaders failed to muster a single shot on target before the break.

Indeed, there was nothing remotely as incisive from an forward line featuring Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale as the move Celta produced for their seventh-minute opener – Iago Aspas shifting smoothly into a pocket of space in front of a ramshackle Madrid defence and threading a perfect pass for Fedor Smolov to coolly slot home.

Hazard was making his first appearance since suffering a fractured ankle in November and, shortly after Ramos' party piece, showed signs of starting to shift through the gears.

In the 40th minute, Karim Benzema pulled out to the left channel and Hazard scampered around the outside, pulling the ball back from the byline for the on-rushing Bale to fire narrowly over.

It was link-up play to cheer Zidane as he tries to get his returning attackers up to speed ahead of the Champions League showdown against Manchester City later this month.

On this evidence, however, Hazard and Bale are playing for one spot. The ever-dependable Benzema is a guaranteed starter, fitness permitting, and Los Blancos missed the benched Vinicius Jr's dynamism for much of Sunday's contest.

Having set themselves a low bar in the first-half, Madrid improved considerably during the second period and hit the front thanks to a couple of sure things.

Toni Kroos' midfield scheming is not annotated with goals too frequently, but he dispatched Marcelo's pass to score for the sixth time against Celta. He has 14 LaLiga goals overall since joining Madrid from Bayern Munich in 2014.

Ramos is, by comparison, somewhat more prolific from centre-back. A smart finish from an offside position showed his radar to be back in order following the earlier mishap and there was little doubt about the outcome when he stepped up for a 65th-minute penalty.

Ruben Blanco erred badly when Benzema and Hazard repeated their first-half link, with the Celta goalkeeper darting from his ground to needlessly bring the Belgium star down.

Blanco guessed correctly but Ramos' sprung from his staggered run-up to dispatch an unerring strike.

Hazard made way for Vinicius in the 73rd minute and enjoyed a warm ovation from the Bernabeu faithful – the sort of reception that sadly only seems to exist in the past tense for Bale nowadays.

As for the other grizzled survivors of Zidane's three consecutive Champions League final triumphs from 2016 through to 2018, they remain his dependables.

They will be asked to go to the well once more the next time Madrid emerge at their famous home ground, faced with a formidable but flawed City in a competition they know like the back of their hand.

It would be a brave person who backs against them but the sight of Celta producing a sting in the tail suggested the years could be taking a toll.

Substitutes Denis Suarez and Santi Mina combined as Aspas and Smolov had before for the latter to score – the lines of communication between Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane in the backline again appearing unhelpfully clogged.

The lead at the top of LaLiga from Barcelona was only a point at full-time, a situation roughly as comfortable as booting a football into your own face.

Of course, Ramos tumbled theatrically in stoppage time to try and win another penalty and Madrid will strain and scrap for everything until the end of the season. With 46 goals from 24 LaLiga games, don't expect them to blow too many teams away either. The Galactico grind is on.

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane recalled Eden Hazard to his starting line-up to face Celta Vigo on Sunday after the Belgium international recovered from an ankle fracture.

Hazard's last appearance for Los Blancos came in a 2-2 Champions League draw against Paris Saint-Germain in November, the injury limiting him to just eight LaLiga appearances and one goal since his €100million transfer from Chelsea.

The 29-year-old joined Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema in Los Blancos' front three against Celta, with Isco dropping to the bench despite scoring in Madrid's 4-1 win at Osasuna.

Hazard's return to fitness is well-timed given Madrid's tough run of forthcoming fixtures.

Zidane will take his side to Levante in LaLiga before a Champions League clash at home against Manchester City and then the Clasico versus Barcelona on March 1.

Eden Hazard is 100 per cent fit and ready to return when Real Madrid take on Celta Vigo in LaLiga on Sunday, says Zinedine Zidane.

Belgium international Hazard has been out of action since November after fracturing his ankle in a 2-2 Champions League draw against Paris Saint-Germain.

He has scored one goal and made 13 appearances since arriving from Chelsea for a reported initial fee of €100million, his debut having been delayed until September due to a hamstring problem.

However, Hazard has been in full training with Madrid this week and Madrid coach Zidane confirmed he could feature at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"We all know how important Hazard is and that's why we signed him. He's a great player. We're very happy he's back with the group," Zidane said at a pre-match news conference on Saturday.

"He hasn't played for three months and it's not easy. It will also depend on the game and the rhythm but physically he's absolutely fit and available to be with us.

"We know how much he can help us. It was tough not having him for almost three months due to injury. He's also very happy to be back.

"It's true we have to take it easy, we should give him time, and that's what we did to make sure he's 100 per cent fit when he is back. He is ready to play tomorrow."

Madrid went into the weekend three points clear at the top of LaLiga and face a huge Clasico against Barcelona in between Champions League last-16 matches against Manchester City.

In previous campaigns Zidane has rotated his side heavily for domestic and European matches, but he was guarded when asked about how he will approach the next month.

"The most important game is the one the one that we're playing tomorrow and after that we'll just plan the following week," said Zidane.

"In the next month we'll have very important games and in each game we'll have to give it our all because they are all crucial.

"We've done well up to now but we have to continue like that if we want to win something important at the end of the season. We know the situation and every game will be a tough one, but we're ready for that challenge."

City have been handed a two-season European ban by UEFA for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations, though the English club will appeal the sanction at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Asked for his thoughts on what has happened to their Champions League opponents, Zidane said: "I don't really know what's going to change or what's going to happen. I can only talk to you about football and about games we're going to play.

"They are a very strong team, very competitive team and this is something that is not going to change. But right now I'm focused on our game tomorrow.

"They are a great team regardless of the situation they are going through. The games against them in the Champions League will be tough.

"As far as the ban goes, I cannot talk about that, it's not my job. What I want to stress is Manchester City are a great team, a very tough opponent."

Zinedine Zidane wants to see more goals from Isco after the midfielder netted his first of the LaLiga season in Real Madrid's 4-1 win over Osasuna on Sunday.

Isco brought Madrid level, cancelling out Unai Garcia's opener, before Madrid eased to victory as their three-point lead at the top was maintained.

The 27-year-old Isco has only scored twice this season, with only one coming in LaLiga, a competition in which he has started nine times this campaign.

Zidane praised Isco's performance at Osasuna, but said he wanted the midfielder on the scoresheet more often.

"I don't think anything has changed. Isco's an important player in this squad," the Madrid head coach told a news conference.

"He's a player that always gives everything when he plays. He's a good footballer. I like the way he plays. He's technical and skilful. He's very important for us.

"He had a brilliant game like everyone else, but above all I am happy about his goal, because he needs to score more goals."

Madrid are next in action at home to Celta Vigo on Sunday.

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 admits "the knives come out" whenever Real Madrid lose but said criticism of Marcelo after the club's midweek Copa del Rey defeat was "upsetting".

Madrid suffered a miserable 4-3 reverse to Real Sociedad on Thursday to tumble out of the cup at the quarter-final stage, and the scoreline arguably flattered the Santiago Bernabeu hosts.

Trailing 4-1 at one stage, it took late goals from Rodrygo Goes and Nacho to garner any sense of respectability.

Zidane used the match to give several of his fringe players a chance, and although 31-year-old Marcelo last month made a 500th appearance for Madrid, he is no longer the first choice left-back.

Ferland Mendy is Zidane's preferred pick now, and Marcelo, despite netting Madrid's first goal, was one of a cluster of players whose performance came in for criticism after the Sociedad loss.

The likes of James Rodriguez, right-back Nacho, goalkeeper Alphonse Areola and forward Brahim Diaz all struggled to impose themselves on the game.

But when asked about Marcelo facing flak, Zidane said on Saturday: "It's upsetting because he gives his all when he plays – not just Marcelo, all the players do – but this isn't going to change. I can say it's upsetting, it's not good because they go out there and play to their maximum.

"The fans who were there saw that. The fans have a role to play – they could be upset when we get knocked out, but I know they know we've given 100 per cent.

"I think Marcelo gave his all the other day. The knives come out when you lose. When we lose, everything gets analysed. The important thing is my players give 100 per cent and he did, I think.

"He's been an important player for many years and I'm sure he's going to continue to be important until the end of the season

"It's very difficult with 50-60 games to play your best football always, so there are ups and downs. There's a long way to go and everyone is needed until the end of the season."

Madrid are back in action at Osasuna on Sunday and entered the weekend with a three-point lead over Barcelona at the top of LaLiga.

Marcelo's fellow Brazilian Casemiro was another to sit out the Sociedad game and the midfielder's absence was felt, but head coach Zidane said the team should have been able to cope without his presence.

"We have one player in that mould. But we have other players who can come in and do a good job," said the Frenchman. 

"People analyse too much the issue of if Casemiro plays or not. We all know what he brings to the side when he plays in that central position, but we need to play well when he's not available."

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane refused to spill the secrets of the dressing room but admitted his team are desperate to make up for their Copa del Rey exit.

A 4-3 defeat to Real Sociedad saw Madrid slump at the quarter-final stage on Thursday, with the fact it came in front of their own fans at the Santiago Bernabeu making the exit all the more uncomfortable.

The chance to quickly put the loss to the back of their minds arrives in Pamplona on Sunday when LaLiga's leaders tackle Osasuna.

When asked about the mood in the Madrid camp, Zidane, whose team were unbeaten in 21 games before their cup blow, was giving little away.

"What goes on in the locker room stays there," he said. "We've analysed the game. We're not happy with the outcome, but luckily there's another game just three days later and now we're focusing on that game.

"It's not the end of the world. There's been lots of good work until now."

Madrid began the weekend three points ahead of bitter rivals Barcelona, who suffered their own cup misery at the hands of Athletic Bilbao.

Mid-table Osasuna have been blighted by draws this season, with 10 of their 22 matches ending level, but Madrid got the better of them in September when goals from Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo Goes secured a 2-0 home victory.

"The last 20, 21 games, I've been saying we've yet to win anything," Zidane said. "What we have to do is fight, battle away until the end of the season.

"We've got a game on Sunday and another game after that, and it's going to be non-stop. The players have plenty of self-belief.

"I was a player. I know what it's like to be in their shoes. It's not easy to be playing every three days and to play your best football in each and every game.

"We played against a team who played very well, never stopped running. No team had run more against us this season.

"We'll get more games like this coming up, no doubt. I'm always going to defend my players."

Zidane made a host of changes for the cup clash but looks set to restore his strongest available side for the Osasuna game.

"There's going to be movement, rotation. I have my way of doing things and I can make mistakes," he said, "But I'm confident in my players and we have to praise Real Sociedad for how they played.

"I have decisions I need to make and I'm the man responsible here and that won't change."

Zidane added: "We know what game to expect on Sunday. It's another tough game and I always say the same but it's a tough team, a tough ground and they've been doing things very well this season.

"We know what kind of game and opponents we're going to face. It's going to be a tough 90 minutes and we have to give our all. It's another final for us."

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."

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