Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said he would not ask for players to miss international friendlies and return to the Spanish capital early ahead of an action-packed next month for the European champions.
A 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday moved Zidane’s men five points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga, but they face a blockbuster UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich and seven La Liga matches next month, including against Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, on their return from an upcoming two-week international break.
Last year, Madrid managed to convince a number of national teams to release the likes of Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos to miss friendlies in this month’s international break, but Zidane said there would be no repeat, despite Madrid’s upcoming schedule.
“I’m not going to get involved,” Zidane said on Saturday. “The players will go with the national teams. I will rest, they won’t, but there is nothing we can do. When they return from the national teams we are going to have nine games in 28 days and everything will be on the line.We are 24 [in the squad] and I am sure we will need everyone, but I won’t speak with anyone [in the national teams].”
Zidane showed his intentions to rely on his squad when Cristiano Ronaldo was substituted for the final 12 minutes at the San Mames.
However, the World Player of the Year showed no dissent when being replaced by Isco.
“He can go off now and again,” Zidane said. “I was happy with how he played, we won and that is what I am left with.”
Madrid had a rare midweek off to prepare for their trip to the Basque country and inflict Athletic’s first home defeat in 20 games.
Marcelo recognized the benefit of a full week’s preparation, which they will not have for the rest of the campaign, proved vital.
“We had time to prepare this week and it worked out well. We knew what we needed to do,” Marcelo told BeIN Sports Spain.
Brazilian midfielder Casemiro was Madrid’s unlikely hero as he bundled home the winner 22 minutes from time after Aritz Aduriz had canceled out Karim Benzema’s opener for Real.
“Obviously, it was a very important game, but in our heads we are only thinking about winning every game, not how many points in front we are,” Marcelo said. “Heading into the international break it was important to be first.”