Zinedine Zidane has described the latest injury to Eden Hazard as "inexplicable" as frustrations build over the Real Madrid star's fitness.

The Belgium international returned from a six-game absence in LaLiga as a second-half substitute in Madrid's 2-1 win over Elche on Saturday.

It had been hoped the 30-year-old would be ready for more game time on Tuesday, when Madrid host Atalanta in the Champions League last-16 second leg.

However, Hazard had to miss training on Monday due to a damaged hip flexor, and head coach Zidane confirmed he would not be in the squad for the visit of the Serie A side.

"He's not going to be fit. We're going to put something out shortly [on the injury]; I can't say any more," Zidane said.

"Something is going on. These are things I can't explain. I want to be positive and think it's going to be something small.

"They [the fans] have to wait. We know what sort of player he is. They want to see him, of course, just like everyone else here. But now, they can't."

Hazard has played just 14 times this season as injuries continue to blight his time in the Spanish capital.

The €100million signing from Chelsea has only started 29 matches in all competitions since joining two years ago and has not completed 90 minutes in a single game since November 2019.

"There are four questions on Hazard – I can't say any more," Zidane replied when pressed about the player's problems.

"We want to help him. I don't know if it will be with me or someone else, because he has a long contract, but I want with all my strength for him to be seen as the player he is. Sooner or later, he'll arrive."

Hazard is one of a number of fitness concerns Madrid have had this term but Zidane refused to pin any blame on the club's medical department.

"I don't think there's a problem [with the department]. We have very competent people here who are on top of the players," he said.

"We're going to find out what is happening, but at the moment, it's inexplicable. We've talked about pre-season, the accumulation of matches, also in the head.

"We're going to try to recover [the injured players]. Now, we have fewer injuries. Enough of them have returned."

Striker Karim Benzema, meanwhile, was left saddened by Hazard's latest setback, saying: "He hasn't had much luck since he came here.

"I'm sad because he's a top player. He's sad because he wants to show that he's a world star. We need him."

Zinedine Zidane is delighted with the character Real Madrid showed to clinch a late win over Elche, but wishes his side could have scored earlier.

Karim Benzema's sensational half-volley in stoppage time secured a 2-1 comeback win for Madrid, who moved up to second in LaLiga.

It was Benzema's second goal of the game – the Frenchman having previously cancelled out Dani Calvo's header.

Madrid have scored five goals in second-half injury time in LaLiga this season, four of them scored by Benzema.

And though Madrid showing the spirit needed to score late goals is a positive for ZIdane, he is concerned that his team are becoming too reliant on last-gasp strikes.

"I like the character but I would like them to score earlier. I would like quieter games," Zidane told reporters.

"It is a team that has character, we are alive in both competitions and we will continue to fight hard and believe in ourselves.

"It's a comeback. We believe in what we do, it has cost us, we have had two or three chances to score before and we have not done it.

"In the end, it is a fair result. They are two very beautiful goals, very good plays. It is good for us."

Playing at the centre of a back three, Sergio Ramos made his first league appearance in over two months after recovering from injury, though the veteran campaigner looked to be working his way back to sharpness.

Ramos made one clearance and lost possession five times before going off after Elche opened the scoring 61 minutes in.

However, Ramos did have a penalty appeal turned down beforehand, a decision which Zidane felt went against his side, though he refused to criticise the officials.

"I shouldn't get involved there. The referee does his job and we try to do ours, that's it," Zidane said.

"I saw the play, it seems to us that there is something, but the referee has decided something else and that's it."

Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard have been named in Real Madrid's 20-man squad to face Elche.

Club captain Ramos, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has not played since suffering meniscus damage in January.

Hazard has endured an injury-plagued existence since joining Madrid from Chelsea for €100million before the start of last season, with a problem in his left thigh serving as the Belgium attacker's latest setback.

Asked at a pre-match media conference whether each man was ready to play a part against Elche, Zidane replied: "Yes, of course. And we are very happy. Our idea is that they have minutes."

And both are in the 20-strong party, with conjecture ongoing over whether Ramos will extend his deal in the Spanish capital.

Hazard is under contract until 2024, giving him plenty of time to turn around an underwhelming stint to date.

Zidane has every confidence the 30-year-old will do so.

"I see him 100 per cent physically and emotionally well," said the Frenchman. "He has overcome the injuries and discomfort he may have had.

"I see him well, he will be with us and I hope he can play."

The Madrid boss dismissed concerns that the catalogue of injuries suffered by Hazard could have a similarly debilitating impact as Gareth Bale's woes had over recent seasons.

"Eden has had his discomfort, it's true. He had never had a long injury before coming to Madrid," he added.

"Now here he had a lot of discomfort. But he has a long player and when he gets well, Damn, he is going to have an impressive performance.

"I speak to the fans: when a player is not at 100 per cent it is complicated, but he is going to do very well here "

Zinedine Zidane has refused to offer any guarantee over the future of Sergio Ramos, but he remains convinced Raphael Varane will stay at Real Madrid. 

Club captain Ramos is out of contract at the end of the season and stated on Thursday that there was "nothing new" to report around a possible extension. 

With Madrid said to be keen to sign Ramos to a new deal but only on reduced wages due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Paris Saint-Germain have been linked with the 34-year-old, who has won 22 trophies in 16 years with Madrid including five LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues. 

Head coach Zidane admitted on Friday he has little knowledge of Ramos' contract situation, although he would be keen for the Spain veteran to stay in the capital. 

Speaking ahead of Saturday's LaLiga clash with Elche, he said of Ramos: "I can't really answer that question because I don't know. 

"I hope that Ramos remains at the club, he's a key player with everything he's done in the past and hopefully he can remain here and play." 

Meanwhile, the future of long-time centre-back partner Varane is also uncertain. The 27-year-old, whose contract runs out at the end of next season, is said to be considering a new challenge and is reportedly a target for Manchester United. 

However, Zidane appears confident his compatriot has no particular desire to move elsewhere and only has positive things to say about life at Madrid. 

"I don't think that's his first option, to play elsewhere," said Zidane. "He always speaks highly of the club. He's very happy here. I can't see him playing anywhere else." 

Madrid face Elche needing a win to put pressure on top two Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. 

The champions are two points behind Barca and eight adrift of leaders Atletico following last weekend's 1-1 derby draw.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been linked with a sensational return to Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane faced questions over the Juventus star's future on Friday.

It was reported this week that Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes, had contacted Madrid over a potential switch back to the LaLiga champions.

Portugal captain Ronaldo is Madrid's all-time leading goalscorer after finding the back of the net a staggering 451 times in 438 matches before joining Juve on a four-year deal in July 2018.

Madrid boss Zidane could not escape the speculation at his latest media conference as talk over the possibility of the 36-year-old rejoining Los Blancos continues to rumble on.

"We all know what he means for the club, what he did for the club," he said.

"I coached Ronaldo, he's part of the club's history, his contribution was magnificent but right now he's a Juventus footballer and he's doing very well for the club and there's not much more I can add to all the things that have been said.

"He's a Juve footballer and I have to respect the club and the player."

Madrid host struggling Elche on Saturday knowing they have no margin for error in the title race, as they trail Atletico Madrid by eight points.

Zidane says relegation-threatened Elche must not be taken lightly.

"We know in the Spanish league there are no easy games really," said the former France playmaker. "You look at the league table and it doesn't tell the whole story.

"It's a club that are down near the bottom, but they are a very good side and have put in some very good performances this season in the league.

"Now with the new manager [Fran Escriba] things have changed. We expect a tough game and we know we've got to put in a great performance if we want to take all three points and that's our aim."

Zinedine Zidane declared Real Madrid "are alive" in a LaLiga title race that was given a stunning twist thanks to Karim Benzema's late equaliser against Atletico Madrid. 

Moments after Atletico threatened to go 2-0 ahead, Benzema drove the ball past Jan Oblak to earn a 1-1 draw that keeps Madrid clinging to hopes of a successful title defence. 

They are not as close as they would hope; five points off the pace having played one more game than Atletico means there is a mountain to climb. 

But that gap was almost eight points after Luis Suarez's early strike looked set to decide the derby, with Benzema's 88th-minute intervention a welcome reprieve for the visitors to the Wanda Metropolitano. 

"It is deserved, we had chances at the end. We could have scored more, but the good thing was we had a different second half and changed the game," Zidane told a post-game news conference. 

"It is a point, we are alive. We are going to keep fighting. It is a correct result, we believed until the end that it could be recovered."

Madrid thought they should have had a penalty late in the first half when a corner from Toni Kroos zipped across the six-yard box and struck Felipe on the arm, but referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez rejected the claims, even after viewing the incident on a touchline screen. 

Perhaps Zidane might have had a different view if Benzema had not equalised, but Madrid's head coach offered a phlegmatic post-game perspective. 

"His job is difficult. It is his decision, his responsibility. We have to respect that," Zidane said of the referee. "The players said it was a hand, he has reviewed it and decided not to whistle." 

Atletico are three points ahead of second-placed Barcelona but finished this game deflated, and their once-commanding lead has been whittled away in recent weeks. 

"We know there is a lot left," Zidane said. "Everything can always change, we are doing things well, we can improve. 

"I am very proud of all my players. We are in the same boat and we are going to fight to the end." 

Atletico have now gone 10 LaLiga derbies against Madrid without a win, drawing six of those games and losing four times. 

The result also means Real Madrid have not lost any of their four LaLiga games at Atletico's new home (W1 D3), and they remain the only team to have played in the stadium in the Spanish top flight without losing. 

Zidane also avoided a rare defeat to Diego Simeone, meaning the Atletico boss now has just one victory in nine matches (W1 D5 L3) against the Frenchman in LaLiga. That 11 per cent win record for Simeone is the Argentinian's worst against any manager he has faced at least four times in the competition. 

Ultimately, Real Madrid set out to bring home all three points, yet the one they left with felt almost like a win. 

Speaking to broadcaster Movistar, Zidane explained he was impressed by how greatly Madrid improved in the second half, after a shaky start to the game. 

"We had to be more aggressive, be higher, have more pressure. We had to be more alive on the pitch," he said. "You can get into a bad game, but then you have to change. 

"That's what we did in the second half, change at a general level, defensively and offensively. 

"They are a direct rival. We wanted all three points. The important thing is to turn the game around. Now we have to continue."

Luis Suarez scored a dazzling goal and was named man of the match, but on the day his former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard finally became a league champion, did Suarez have his own 'Gerrard's slip'?

Championships are often decided on fine margins, and it is almost seven years since Liverpool's Premier League title hopes were brutally hit by Chelsea, when Gerrard's famous stumble let in Demba Ba to score. Manchester City snatched the silverware from the long-time favourites, and Liverpool had to wait another six years before landing the trophy.

Gerrard has managed Rangers to the Scottish title and Suarez is attempting to power Atletico to LaLiga silverware, and on Sunday it seemed all the glory would be his after he fired the Rojiblancos into an early 1-0 lead over Real Madrid, a typically flamboyant finish from a player some thought was washed up at Barcelona barely six months ago.

How he has been revived this season under Diego Simeone, and what a moment it would be were he and Atletico to carry off the title in Spain this year.

But this game at the Wanda Metropolitano finished 1-1, and Suarez will know he is partly responsible for the home side not seeing out victory.

In the 87th minute, Atletico had a glorious chance on the counter-attack to go 2-0 in front. Suarez, in plenty of space inside the Madrid half, could not find the pass that would have sent Saul Niguez through on goal, instead pushing his team-mate wide, and the chance was snuffed out.

Within seconds, Madrid were encroaching on the Atletico penalty area, Karim Benzema on the ball. His pass to Casemiro was carefully returned to the feet of the Frenchman, who burst beyond the penalty spot and finally found a way past Jan Oblak.

Kingpins, that's what Suarez and Benzema are to their teams. Like Gerrard at Liverpool. They are the players whose influence is felt throughout the team, the squad, the club and beyond.

Suarez walked off with an apologetic look at full-time, tracked to the tunnel by television cameras. He had the game in his hands, and he dropped it. Madrid are still in this title race, and five points behind feels an awful lot better than the prospect of eight adrift, which was looming as Suarez picked his pass to Saul.

This was a result that would have been cheered in Barcelona, if they were paying attention in Catalonia and not all-consumed by the elections for a new club president.

Maybe a Madrid win would have been an even better result for Barcelona's title prospects, but nobody among the Blaugranas would dare admit that.

Barcelona sit second, just three points behind Atletico now, and Simeone's team must still visit Camp Nou. How Suarez must be relishing that, and how he must be relieved that Atletico remain in the box seat in this three-team battle.

He was excellent for large parts of this game, hitting the target with four of his six shots and typically delighting in winding up the opposition.

Benzema, by contrast, looked far from sharp until the final half hour, when the player who was returning from a three-week injury lay-off found something extra.

Zidane had labelled Benzema "a joy for football" before this game, but by the break he had registered three attempts, none of which hit the target; a tame shot and two stray headers.

This game seemed ripe for Atletico to end their nine-game winless run in LaLiga games against Madrid (D5 L4), with Marcos Llorente's skilful evasion of Nacho and Suarez's world-class finish from the pass that followed a real treat for the eyes. It was the Uruguayan's 10th goal in 13 LaLiga games against Madrid.

It was Suarez's 17th goal from his 29th shot on target this season in LaLiga, and by early in the second half the expected goal (xG) rating for each side showed Atletico were leading by 1.2 to 0.4.

Slowly, though, the chances began to flow for Madrid, Oblak making a string of magnificent saves, including two in quick succession from Benzema, who was coming into his own as others tired. Finally, Benzema got his reward for persistence. It finished a 1.8-1.8 draw on xG, 1-1 on the scoreboard.

And now Atletico are 10 league games without a win against their neighbours.

"We know how difficult this championship is," Simeone said in his pre-match news conference, pointing to how Madrid and Barcelona have been gradually reeling in Atletico in recent weeks.

It may get a whole lot harder now.

Zinedine Zidane described Karim Benzema as a "joy for football" as the Real Madrid boss prepared to welcome the striker back for Sunday's crucial derby with Atletico Madrid.

Madrid make the short trip to the Wanda Metropolitano with Los Blancos trailing their LaLiga-leading neighbours by five points, Atletico also having the benefit of a game in hand.

Having returned to training this week following an ankle injury that has kept him out since February 14, Benzema is back in the frame for a game that could go a long way to deciding the destination of the title.

"Karim is going to be with us," Zidane told a media conference. "We know what Karim is. Not just the matter of goals.

"He is an important player for us in our system and especially when we have the ball.

"He is special. What he does on the field... For people who like football, Benzema is a joy for football; for me, having him as a coach is a joy.

"He has been here for 10 years and has improved a lot. He is a fundamental player for us, for our team. He is a special player for all football fans, not just Madrid."

While Zidane will have Benzema at his disposal, he will be without Eden Hazard, the Belgium playmaker having not featured since January because of a muscle issue.

But Zidane denied reports Hazard had suffered a setback in his recovery.

"There is no relapse. We want him to be 100 per cent when he can return," added Zidane. "This is what he is doing, little by little, without haste.

"We know how important he is in our team, but we have to go with how he feels. It is important that, when he returns, he feels strong and 100 per cent.

"We are not going to risk anything on his return. He is progressing very well, and I hope that next week maybe he can be with us for good."

Benzema could make a crucial difference for Madrid, though.

In the 21 league games in which he has featured this season, Madrid have won 15, drawn three and lost three. In the four games in which he has been absent, Madrid have won one, drawn two and lost one, averaging a point less across those matches.

They have averaged almost a goal per game more (1.9 to 1.0) with Benzema in the line-up compared to when he has not been available, the Frenchman having found the net 12 times in LaLiga this term.

However, even if Madrid are defeated by Atletico, Zidane will not see it as a death knell for their hopes of retaining the title.

"We play another game, three points at stake," said Zidane. "It is a final, but like all games. When we play we always have to win.

"Whatever happens, we will stay alive in La Liga. We are focused on playing a good game and nothing else. If we play well, that is the most important thing for us."

Real Madrid star Toni Kroos said he is planning to retire at the LaLiga champions.

Kroos has enjoyed great success since joining Madrid from Bundesliga powerhouse Bayern Munich in 2014, winning three Champions League trophies and two LaLiga titles among 13 honours.

The 31-year-old midfielder has made 309 appearances for Madrid across all competitions – the most by a German player at the Santiago Bernabeu, surpassing Uli Stielike.

Reflecting on the feat, Kroos – who has scored 21 goals since moving to the Spanish capital – told Real Madrid TV: "It's something special. When you look at the Germans who have played here you realise that they are big names: [Gunter] Netzer, [Bernd] Schuster or Stielike.
 
"Overtaking Stielike, who is a club legend, makes me really happy. It's a special record and I'm delighted to get to this point.

"As I've always said, my idea is to retire here and that's what I'm going to try to do."

Kroos has scored two goals and supplied six assists in 22 LaLiga appearances this season, while he has made 31 appearances across all competitions.

Madrid are third in LaLiga, five points adrift of neighbours and leaders Atletico Madrid ahead of Sunday's derby.

Zinedine Zidane's Madrid have not lost any of their three games at the Wanda Metropolitano in LaLiga (W1 D2), and remain the only team to have played in the new Atletico venue without losing in the league.

Zidane is unbeaten in his three away LaLiga fixtures against Atletico as a head coach (W1 D2) and could become the second Madrid boss to avoid defeat in his first four away derbies versus Rojiblancos in the history of the competition, after Luis Molowny in 1986 (W3 D1).

"I try to give my best in every game and every pass I make that doesn't reach my team-mate annoys me," Kroos added.

"I try to strive for perfection in this sense, although you can never be perfect.

"I practice it and I've been working on it continuously for many years."

Karim Benzema has revealed how Cristiano Ronaldo's departure has allowed him to take on a different role in Real Madrid's attack.

The Frenchman has scored a goal every 1.7 games across all competitions in the two-and-a-half seasons since Ronaldo made a €100million switch to Juventus.

But in their nine campaigns together at the Santiago Bernabeu, Benzema was instead finding the back of the net once every 2.2 games.

And the 33-year-old has now acknowledged that he had to sacrifice certain parts of his game for Ronaldo's benefit - not that he has any regrets over the matter.

"Cristiano's departure allowed me to play a different role. He scored 50 goals every year and you had to adapt to his game," he told El Pais.

"He is one of the best in the world and I was happy by his side."

Nine of the 18 trophies Benzema has won in his 12 years in Madrid have come during the two separate managerial stints of Zinedine Zidane.

Of his compatriot, he added: "He is an older brother for me, he is always there to advise me."

In a wide-ranging interview, Benzema also opened up on his boyhood sporting heroes, explaining: "In football, it's Ronaldo, the Brazilian. 

"I admire [Mike] Tyson because we both came from the bottom and we went up little by little. We never had it easy, nor did they give us anything."

He also discussed his upbringing, adding: "I come from a neighbourhood where things were difficult. When I saw older boys well-dressed and with nice cars, what I wanted was to be like them.

"Money makes things a lot easier, but you don't need millions to be happy."

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is hopeful his leading marksman Karim Benzema will be available to return from injury in Sunday's huge LaLiga derby against leaders Atletico Madrid.

Benzema is Madrid's top-scorer this season with 17 goals in all competitions but has missed their past three games due to an unspecified knock.

The France international's finishing touch was missed in Monday's 1-1 draw with Real Sociedad, which leaves third-placed Los Blancos five points behind Atletico having played a game more.

"We hope he can be with us, but we have to wait and see because he still hasn't trained with the team," Zidane said.

"We'll assess the situation tomorrow. He's OK. Karim's injury is much better and we'll take a look at him."

In Benzema's absence, Madrid have collected two 1-0 wins plus the 1-1 draw with Sociedad, so his attacking prowess has been missed.

Highly rated 20-year-old Brazilian winger Vinicius Junior came off the bench to rescue a point for Zidane's side against Sociedad, scoring in the 89th minute for his third league goal of the campaign.

"I’m pleased he got the goal," Zidane said.

"We picked up a point and now we have to move on. It's the result of his hard work and effort. That's what we all have to keep doing."

Zidane remains bullish about Madrid's title hopes, with Atletico having stumbled in recent matches, collecting eight points from a possible 15, while they were also beaten by Chelsea in the Champions League last week.

Barcelona moved past Madrid into second with their 2-0 win at Sevilla on Saturday.

Zinedine Zidane held his hands up and accepted his half-time tinkering may have cost Real Madrid in their 1-1 draw at home to Real Sociedad on Monday. 

Madrid were the more threatening of the teams in the first half at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, with Mariano Diaz hitting the crossbar from close range in a lucky escape for the visitors. 

But, seemingly unhappy with his team's performance, Zidane altered his setup at the interval to go with a back three, only for Portu to ghost in at the back post to head in a Nacho Monreal cross in the 55th minute. 

Zidane reverted to a back four soon after and eventually Madrid got their equaliser in the 89th minute through substitute Vinicius Junior. 

But the Frenchman seemingly felt his half-time changes may have backfired. 

Speaking to reporters after the game, Zidane said: "I changed it [at half-time] because I wasn't happy with our pressing. 

"It was those 10-15 minutes and we changed it again and we were better playing a 4-3-3. Our substitutes did well after coming on." 

Zidane was then asked again if he felt he made a mistake with his initial tweaks, to which he replied: "If you've asked me, and that's now three times, then yes, maybe. 

"We had to change things because, after an hour, the team was a bit tired. Sometimes we have to change things. In the end, you try to find things to change the dynamic." 

While Vinicius' late equaliser likely prevented Madrid from suffering a massive psychological blow ahead of a potentially pivotal derby clash with Atletico Madrid at the weekend, in the grand scheme of the title race it did little to improve their standing. 

Either way, the pressure on Madrid going into the weekend is greater than if they had beaten La Real, as they stay five points behind the leaders having played a game more, yet Zidane insists Monday's result changes nothing. 

"We have to remain calm," Zidane added. "We had a good game and we had three or four chances [to score]. 

"Patience, calm and rest. We were up against a team that creates chances against you. We have to carry on. 

"It doesn't change the way we go into the derby. We have to go there to have a great game." 

Vinicius Junior salvaged a point for Real Madrid late on in Monday's 1-1 draw at home to Real Sociedad, though the result does little to alleviate the pressure ahead of this weekend's potentially vital derby clash with Atletico Madrid. 

Zinedine Zidane's men looked to be heading towards a defeat that could have delivered a devastating psychological blow ahead of arguably their biggest game of the season, but Vinicius spared them near the end. 

The hosts had the better of the first half and should have led when Mariano Diaz – again deputising for the injured Karim Benzema – inexplicably hit the frame of the goal, and La Real were emboldened by that as Portu gave them the lead with 55 minutes played. 

That looked destined to be the winner and potentially the goal that ended Madrid's dwindling title hopes, yet Vinicius got them back on level terms with a minute left, albeit they still end the matchweek a further two points adrift of leaders Atletico.

Madrid somehow failed to take the lead in the 23rd minute, as Mariano nodded Lucas Vazquez's chipped cross against the crossbar from point-blank range, with Marco Asensio hammering agonisingly wide a few seconds later. 

La Real goalkeeper Alex Remiro then proceeded to frustrate the hosts, first blocking a Ferland Mendy effort with his foot before parrying Luka Modric's attempt just before the interval. 

The champions were made to rue their profligacy early in the second period, La Real working the ball well to Nacho Monreal on the left and his inch-perfect cross was met by a wonderful Portu header that picked out the top-far corner. 

They should have made it 2-0 soon after but Alexander Isak could not reach Portu's squared pass, and Madrid subsequently wasted a glorious chance of their own – Casemiro heading off target. 

Madrid did eventually restore parity as Vinicius turned in Vazquez's low cross in the dying stages. Still, they remain five points adrift of Atletico having also played a game more. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zinedine Zidane accepted injury-hit Real Madrid did not do themselves justice against 10-man Atalanta but was content to come away with a 1-0 Champions League advantage.

Atalanta midfielder Remo Freuler was sent off for a professional foul on Ferland Mendy only 17 minutes into the first leg of the round of 16 tie at Gewiss Stadium on Wednesday.

Lacklustre Madrid dominated possession but had just three shots on target in a drab encounter until Mendy scored his first European goal to win it four minutes from time.

A depleted Los Blancos side, who have the likes of Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard on a long list of absentees, lacked ideas and looked set to fire a blank prior to Mendy's sweetly struck late away goal.

Zidane knows Madrid's fifth consecutive win was not pretty, but he was relieved to take the upper hand heading into the second leg at home on March 16.

The Madrid head coach said: "We didn't play a great game tonight, but I think the most important thing is the result.

"In the end, scoring is what is important to us. We still have to play the second leg, but it's a good result."

The former France midfielder added: "We played against a very physically strong team. Defensively they were good and it's a good result.

"There are many casualties, but we continue with what we are doing well. The players who are here are committed."

Zidane praised Isco, who made only his fifth start of the season - and his first in the Champions League - in a more advanced role with Benzema still sidelined.

"It has been a long time since he played so many minutes and he has done very well in a position that is not his," said Zidane.

"He has played a great game, we know what he can give us and he has done very well. When he plays he gives everything on the field. It's a victory and he's done a great job for over an hour."

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