Zidane hope for better Real squad

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has defended his players and dismissed talk of a crisis at the reigning Spanish and European champions after seeing them fall further behind La Liga leaders Barcelona.

Madrid ended an outstanding 2017 with a 3-0 defeat at home to their bitter rivals in the Clasico and their first La Liga outing of 2018 saw them draw 2-2 at Celta Vigo on Sunday.

That means they lie fourth in the table, 16 points behind Barca, the unbeaten leaders, as the halfway stage in the season approaches. They have a game in hand, but their hopes of a successful title defence already appear in tatters. Naija and Bet

“When things go wrong, I am not someone to throw two or three players into the shit. We are all in the same boat, all responsible, me the first as coach,” said the Frenchman as he refused to blame any individual members of his squad for their slump in form.

“We had two spectacular years and people should not forget that. I know the next game is the most important. We will not live in the past, but will not throw away what has been done either.”Real are preparing for Wednesday’s Copa del Rey last 16, second leg at home to second-tier Numancia, which should be a formality after they won 3-0 in Soria last week.

Zidane, who was named French coach of the year for 2017 by France Football magazine after leading Madrid to a record five trophies in the last 12 months, held a meeting with his squad on Tuesday that delayed the start of his pre-game press conference.

“I am not going to tell you what we spoke about, it was just one of these chats that teams have. You can analyse it however you like, call it a crisis or whatever, but we are looking for solutions and to make things better,” he said.

“When things are not going as we want them to, we have work to do. The players think the same, we are going to work harder than ever, in every sense. It is not a physical thing or more in the head…it is a little bit of everything.”

Zidane said he has no interest in signing a striker in the January transfer window despite an injury to Karim Benzema.

Real may be off the pace in La Liga but they are still alive in the Copa del Rey, a competition they have won only twice in the last 25 years. They also have a Champions League last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain to prepare for in February.

“I don’t mind if people think the league is over. The most important thing is to give our best. We’ll see what happens in the league, but we have the cup and the Champions League too,” Zidane said.

Holders Barcelona host Celta on Thursday after drawing 1-1 in the first leg at Balaidos last week.

New signing Philippe Coutinho will not make his debut until later in the month after arriving in Catalonia with a thigh injury.

The draw for the quarterfinals is set to take place on Friday, with the first legs scheduled for next midweek.