Warning: include(/home/ubuntu/websites/mirrorsports.lk/public_html/wp-content/themes/revolution_magazine/breadcrumb.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /home/ubuntu/websites/mirrorsports.lk/public_html/wp-content/themes/revolution_magazine/tag.php on line 9
Warning: include(): Failed opening '/home/ubuntu/websites/mirrorsports.lk/public_html/wp-content/themes/revolution_magazine/breadcrumb.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/share/php:/usr/share/pear:') in /home/ubuntu/websites/mirrorsports.lk/public_html/wp-content/themes/revolution_magazine/tag.php on line 9
Barcelona will not risk calling up star forward Neymar for the potential title decider with Real Madrid, the Spanish champions said on Sunday, just hours before El Clasico.
The loss of the suspended Brazilian forward deals a big blow to Barcelona’s hopes of denying their fierce rivals a first La Liga crown in five years.
Barcelona appealed to Spain’s Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAD) late on Friday over Neymar’s three-game ban in the hope it would be frozen, which would have allowed him to take part in the must-win showdown at the Santiago Bernabeu.
But with the pivotal clash looming — kick-off is at 1845 GMT on Sunday — Barcelona said they were abandoning their bid to have Neymar available.
“Given the legal uncertainty of the lack of a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport with the game tonight less than 12 hours away, and to focus all attention on the sporting aspect, the club has decided not to call up Neymar,” an angry Barcelona statement said.
The Catalans said the TAD had created “a huge legal void”.
Neymar is in the middle of a suspension for his red card and subsequent sarcastic applause of the officials in Barca’s damaging 2-0 defeat to Malaga two weeks ago.
The club argue that until a ruling on the appeal is held, Neymar’s ban should be suspended and therefore allow him to feature at the Bernabeu.
“As a coach I am prepared to play with Neymar or without him,” manager Luis Enrique said on Saturday.
In the absence of a TAD ruling, Barca would have been taking an enormous risk by playing Neymar as they could have been sanctioned with a defeat for fielding an ineligible player.
Enrique says his last Clasico — he will leave Barcelona this summer — is a must-win: Madrid hold a three-point lead at the top with a game in hand on their rivals.
“Given how close it is to the end of the season it is a decisive weekend,” said Enrique.
“This time a Clasico can decide or almost decide the league or leave it very open. For us it is like a final, only a win will do.”
Bale has been sidelined by an inflammation of the muscles around where he suffered ligament damage in his right ankle that kept him out for three months earlier in the season.
“He will be with us on Sunday,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
“You will see tomorrow what team we are going to start with.”
Should Bale not start, the on-form Isco is favourite to take his place, as he did for Madrid’s thrilling 4-2 Champions League win over Bayern Munich after extra-time in midweek.
Centre-backs Raphael Varane and Pepe are Madrid’s only injury absentees meaning Zidane is expected to name the same starting XI as against Bayern.
“There is a lot of tiredness, but also a lot of excitement and desire to keep doing what we are doing,” added the Frenchman.
Only victory will salvage Barca’s season after crashing out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage to Juventus in midweek.
“For some it means it is a very attractive challenge and for others it means pressure,” Enrique said.
“I prefer to take it as an attractive and marvellous challenge. It’s a chance to move level on points with Madrid.”
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a controversial hat-trick to become the first man to reach 100 Champions League goals as Real Madrid overcame 10-man Bayern Munich 4-2 after extra time in Tuesday’s thrilling quarter-final second leg.
The holders surged through 6-3 on aggregate at an exhilarated Santiago Bernabeu to take their place in Friday’s semi-final draw for a record seventh consecutive year.
But Real were pushed all the way by Bayern, who battled back from a 2-1 first-leg deficit to send the tie into extra time thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s penalty and an own goal from Sergio Ramos.
However, after Arturo Vidal was sent off, Ronaldo hit the century mark in Europe’s top club competition on 104 minutes and completed his hat-trick five minutes later.
Bayern were left incensed, though, as Ronaldo’s second and third goals were clearly offside.
“To score six goals against a team like Bayern Munich isn’t easy so we deserved to go through,” the Portuguese striker told Spanish TV station Antena 3.
“Real Madrid is Real Madrid, we are used to suffering and we are happy to be in the semis once again.”
Marco Asensio gave a night of high-class action the finale it deserved with a sensational solo goal to rub salt in Bayern wounds.
“The (red) card for Arturo wasn’t a card and then the two goals from Cristiano are offside so clearly we are not happy,” said Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti.
“In a quarter-final you have to put a better referee, or it is the moment to introduce video refereeing, which is what UEFA are trying because there are too many errors.”
The German champions had been beaten on their previous four trips to Spain without even scoring a goal.
However, knowing they needed at least two to progress, Ancelotti’s men started on the front foot and were left to rue a huge opportunity just eight minutes in.
Marcelo made a miraculous block to deny Thiago Alcantara before former Real winger Arjen Robben scuffed into the side-netting on his trusted left foot.
Much like the first leg, Madrid weathered the early storm and had plenty of chances to go in front before half time.
Jerome Boateng bailed out a rare mistake from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer as he cleared off the line from Ramos after Neuer fumbled a simple cross.
The half-time whistle brought some respite to proceedings on the field, although the Bayern fans were involved in a minor clash with police at the break.
The disturbances quickly died down and Bayern soon gave the travelling 4,000 from Germany something to cheer when play resumed.
Another goal-line clearance by Marcelo from Robben’s dinked effort temporarily saved Madrid.
But the hosts didn’t escape moments later when referee Viktor Kassai pointed to the spot as Robben went down under a challenge from Casemiro.
Lewandowski stayed cool under the pressure and converted from the spot for his 39th goal of the season.
Ronaldo looked to have eased Madrid’s nerves when he steered Casemiro’s cross into the far corner 14 minutes from time.
However, Real’s celebrations were very short-lived as just a minute later the ball ricocheted around their box and Ramos turned into his own net.
The balance of a topsy-turvy tie turned Madrid’s way again with five minutes remaining as just as in the first leg, Bayern were reduced to 10 men when Vidal saw a second yellow card for chopping down Asensio.
The extra man proved decisive as Madrid settled the tie with a three-goal burst either side of half time in extra time.
Ronaldo took advantage at not being flagged for offside as he controlled and fired low past Neuer to become the first man to reach a Champions League century.
Four minutes into the second period of extra time he had Marcelo to thank for a brilliant run and unselfish pass that allowed the Portuguese the simplest of finishes to complete his hat-trick despite again being in an offside position.
And Asensio sealed victory in sensational style with a stunning solo run and low right-footed finish as many Bayern players sank to their knees knowing Champions League glory had passed them by for another year.
Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 100th European goal on Wednesday to give holders Real Madrid a 2-1 comeback win at 10-man Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final, first-leg.
“I wanted to reach this record. To be able to reach this mark is an honour and against a team like Bayern it is even better,” Ronaldo, who scored both goals, told BeIN Sport Spain.
Arturo Vidal headed Bayern into a first-half lead, but then skied a penalty attempt on the stroke of half-time before Ronaldo volleyed the defending champions’ level.
Bayern played the last half an hour a man down after centre-back Javi Martinez was sent off for two fouls on Ronaldo within three minutes of each other.
Four-time world player of the year Ronaldo then slotted in the winner between goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s legs for the winner 13 minutes from time.
“We believe we can still do it, we were the better team in the first half, could have made it 2-0 or 3-0,” Neuer told ZDF.
But Bayern were outplayed in the second-half and most of Real’s 23 shots on goal came after the break.
“We had everything under control in the first half, but didn’t use the room consistently,” said captain Philipp Lahm. “The tipping point was the red card.”
Security was tight at the Allianz Arena in the wake of Tuesday’s attacks on the Borussia Dortmund team bus and both teams arrived with a heavy police escort.
There was a large police presence and inside the stadium there was polite applause when the announcer made reference to Dortmund’s ordeal in the preceeding 24 hours.
Bayern suffered a blow before kick-off when top-scorer Robert Lewandowski, who has netted 38 goals this season, dropped out with a bruised shoulder and Thomas Muller deputised as striker.
Bayern were also missing injured Germany defender Mats Hummels against Real’s formidable BBC attack – Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo.
Bayern went ahead on 25 minutes when playmaker Thiago Alcantara swung in a corner from the right which Vidal powered through Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas’s hands.
The Chile midfielder could have added a second when he headed Arjen Robben’s cross wide of the post soon after.
Real made a poor start, rarely threatening Germany’s goalkeeper Neuer, back after minor foot surgery a fortnight ago.
A strong drive from Ronaldo on 41 minutes which Neuer blocked having palmed a Benzema header onto the woodwork with 18 minutes played were their best first-half chances.
Vidal could have finished with a first-half hat-trick when he stepped up to take a penalty after Dani Carvajal’s handball from a Franck Ribery shot.
However, the Chilean smashed the spot-kick high over the crossbar.
It was a miss Bayern were soon to regret.
Real were level two minutes after the break when Carvajal found space on the right and fired in a cross which Ronaldo volleyed past Neuer.
Bale, who has laboured with an ankle injury recently, came off on 58 minutes and Real raised the tempo after he trudged off.
Having already picked up a yellow card for pulling Ronaldo back on 58 minutes, Martinez was shown a red for again fouling the Portugal captain just three minutes later.
Real’s superstar then hit the winner as substitute Marco Asensio, on for Bale, put in a low pass for Ronaldo to tap the ball home between Neuer’s legs.
Real defender Sergio Ramos had the ball in the Bayern net with time running out, but the goal was ruled offside but the Spaniards have the upper hand for the second leg at home next Tuesday.
Bayern Munich host Real Madrid in Wednesday’s mouthwatering Champions League quarter-final, first-leg, with Carlo Ancelotti’s Bavarians looking once again to be the Spaniards’ ‘bete noire’.
And the subplots to the Allianz Arena clash are fascinating.
Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti coached Real to the 2014 Champions League crown and is up against his former assistant from that triumph, Madrid’s current head coach Zinedine Zidane.
World Cup 2010 winner Xabi Alonso, who also won the 2014 Champions League before joining Bayern, will face his ex-club for the last time before retiring in June.
And Real’s Germany midfielder Toni Kroos is another to be coming up against his former employers.
Ancelotti says “little things will make the difference” between the star-studded squads that will see two goal-scoring giants go head-to-head.
Bayern’s top-scorer Robert Lewandowski, with 38 goals in all competitions this season, is up against Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, with 26 goals from 36 games.
That may be modest by his standards, but Ronaldo has tormented Bayern in the past with four goals in as many games and the Bavarians will be wary, especially with backup from Wales star Gareth Bale and France’s Karim Benzema.
Lewandowski suffered a bruised shoulder in scoring twice in Saturday’s 4-1 hammering of Borussia Dortmund, but expects to be “100 percent” fit.
Bayern are on a Champions League record of 16 straight European wins at the Allianz Arena and that’s a record Dutch winger Arjen Robben is keen to maintain.
“We have to up the ante, we have to signal (to Real) from the first minute that there is nothing to take in Munich and we want to win the game,” he said.
Bayern are looking to recover their ‘bete noire’ nickname, given to them by Real fans after Munich won eight of 14 matches against Real between 2000 and 2012.
All that changed in the 2014 Champions League’s semi-final when the team coached by Pep Guardiola was thrashed 4-0 in Munich, crashing out 5-0 on aggregate as Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos netted twice each.
That defeat remains Bayern’s record home European loss, yet there is no talk of revenge ahead of Wednesday’s clash.
“This is the quarter-finals, but it sounds like a final,” said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm.
“We’re playing against an absolute top team, who have top players in every position. We will have to play to our potential.”
Both sides are missing key defenders, though.
Germany’s Mats Hummels was ruled out after damaging ankle ligaments on Sunday so Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez will form the centre-back partnership.
Hummels faces a race against time to be back for the return at the Santiago Bernabeu on April 18, while Real have defenders Pepe and Raphael Varane ruled out of both legs.
Pepe suffered a double rib fracture in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid, while Varane is out for a month with a hamstring injury.
Right-back Daniel Carvajal trained on his own on Monday and is struggling with a knock.
Bayern received a boost on Monday with Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer back in training following a minor foot operation 10 days ago, while Thomas Mueller is also fit after an ankle injury.
“We’re very confident. It’s a European cracker featuring two top teams,” said Mueller.
“We also notice it outside the club, not only in terms of the media, but also when talking to friends or acquaintances in Munich.
“Everyone’s talking about the game.”
Atletico Madrid’s fine form continued as Filipe Luis scored the winner in a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad to close to within seven points of La Liga leaders Real Madrid on Tuesday.
Luis had scored his first goal of the season in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Malaga and netted for the second consecutive game for the first time in his career by rounding off a fine team move on 28 minutes.
Fernando Torres, Yannick Carrasco and Angel Correa all passed up chances to add to Atletico’s advantage, but they held on to move three points clear of Sevilla in the battle for third.
Real Madrid still have two games in hand on Atletico, but the two face each other in the Madrid derby on Saturday.
Real and Barcelona are in action on Wednesday when they take on Leganes and Sevilla respectively.
Atletico will travel to the Santiago Bernabeu brimming with confidence after a fifth straight La Liga win.
“Other than the opening 15 minutes when they dominated the ball, we imposed our tempo, pressed well high up the pitch and created chances,” said Atletico boss Diego Simeone.
“It is a very important win.”
Antoine Griezmann came close twice in quick succession against his former club as his first effort was deflected behind before Geronimo Rulli got down well to save low to his right.
The French international was also involved in the only goal as Luis exchanged passes with he and Torres before slotting home.
Torres then somehow failed to double Atletico’s lead as he turned Carrasco’s low cross onto the post with the goal gaping an then fired the rebound into the side-netting.
Carrasco was also then wasteful as he shot too close to Rulli after an unselfish cutback by Griezmann.
Griezmann was replaced by Angel Correa with 19 minutes remaining as Diego Simeone looked ahead to Saturday’s derby and the visit of Leicester in their Champions League quarter-final, first leg next midweek.
And Correa also passed up a huge chance to seal the three points when he blasted wide with just Rulli to beat 10 minutes later.
A third defeat in four games sees Sociedad slip to seventh as Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao boosted their chances of Europa League qualification.
Bilbao were 2-0 victors over Espanyol thanks to Aritz Aduriz’s first-half double to move up to sixth.
Villarreal are in fifth as Adrian Lopez scored the only goal in a 1-0 win at Real Betis.
If Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina reproduces the kind of form that was key to Saturday’s 2-1 win over Roma against Real Madrid in midweek, a Champions League upset could be on the cards.
But the former Barcelona and Liverpool shot-stopper would be forgiven for also hoping Cristiano Ronaldo forgets his shooting boots Tuesday when Napoli bid to overturn a 3-1 first leg, last 16 defeat against the 11-time European champions.
At the Santiago Bernabeu last month, Reina and Ronaldo were meeting for the first time since the 2008-2009 season, when they both played Premier League football.
In England, they met a total of six times and, with three victories, a draw and two defeats while playing for Manchester United, Portugal’s four-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo comes out on top.
Ahead of Tuesday’s clash at what Reina hopes will be a “red-hot” San Paolo, the odds, and statistics, are firmly stacked against Maurizio Sarri’s hosts.
If Napoli are to go through on away goals, they will have to do what no team has managed since Wolfsburg beat Madrid in the quarter-finals nearly a year and 46 games ago — keep a clean sheet against Los Blancos.
As Napoli look to reach the quarter-finals for the first time, Madrid are poised to reach their seventh in succession.
Yet even defeat last time out, Reina was defiant in their chances, saying post-match: “We have to believe in the comeback, because we can beat Madrid 2-0 at home.
“A goal away from home is very important. We have nothing to lose. Real were and are the favourites, but they can expect a red hot reception at the San Paolo.”
If Reina’s performances for a slick Napoli side currently being inspired by the goalscoring exploits of Dries Mertens are anything to go by this season, he could provide the much-needed X factor.
Reina was superb in a thrilling 2-1 win over Roma on Saturday that saw him deny Diego Perotti at the death with an acrobatic, one-handed save he pushed onto the crossbar before sweeping the ball away away with his leg.
It was an inspired stop that secured the win for Napoli and reduced the gap on second-placed Roma to two points, but Roma, who are already eliminated, are not Real Madrid.
Quantifying past meetings between Reina and Ronaldo is a difficult task: although United came out on top, Ronaldo has now only beaten Reina twice in seven encounters, once from the spot.
It took until his fifth match against Reina, during the 2007-008 season, for Ronaldo to beat the Spaniard, hitting United’s second in the 79th minute of a comprehensive 3-0 win at Old Trafford.
The second, and last time Ronaldo beat Reina was from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute of a 4-1 league defeat late in the 2008-2009 campaign.
Although both Ronaldo and Bale sat out Real’s 4-1 win at Eibar at the weekend due to injury, the Portuguese star is expected to be fully fit on Tuesday when Madrid will look to extend their impressive form in Europe.
Zinedine Zidane, who is expected to make five changes in all with Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Toni Kroos joining Bale and Ronaldo, insisted Ronaldo’s injury “isn’t serious”.
Ronaldo may not have been on target when Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Casemiro all beat Reina last time out.
But Reina’s familiarity with the Portuguese star will be welcome. Even when he didn’t play against Ronaldo, he offered advice to others on how to stop his “spear-like” shots in dead ball situations.
“You have to be careful, and watch them all the way because you don’t know until the last moment where the ball is going to go,” Reina advised then Barcelona ‘keeper Victor Valdes prior to the Champions League final against United in 2009.
“Ronaldo’s free-kicks are like a spear.”
Ronaldo didn’t score on that occasion, when Barcelona triumphed 2-0 in Rome.
Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo hauled Real Madrid back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Villarreal on Sunday and regain top spot in La Liga from Barcelona.
Earlier, Barca had momentarily usurped Real thanks to Lionel Messi’s winner four minutes from time in a 2-1 victory at Atletico Madrid.
Real lead Barca by a point, but also have a game in hand on their title rivals.
“We showed character to turn the game around,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.
“With everything that happened today it was vitally important to get the three points.”
Bale was recalled to the starting line-up for the first time in three months after a long-term injury layoff and Real’s shock 2-1 defeat to Valencia in midweek.
And the European champions looked set for a second straight defeat as Villarreal struck twice early in the second half.
Firstly, Manu Trigueros volleyed home Samu Castillejo’s knockdown before Cedric Bakambu burst onto Bruno Soriano’s through ball to slot past Keylor Navas.
Ronaldo almost replied immediately, but Madrid’s luck looked out when his sweetly struck volley came back off the post.
However, Bale started Madrid’s fightback as he rose highest to power home Dani Carvajal’s cross 25 minutes from time.
Villarreal had enjoyed the better of the opening hour, but were swamped by wave upon wave of Real attack for the final 30 minutes.
The visitors needed a slice of luck, though, when Soriano was harshly adjudged to have handled inside his own area 15 minutes from time.
Ronaldo took responsiblity from the spot to smash home the equaliser.
Villarreal had lost goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo midway through the first half to what looks like the fourth cruciate knee ligament injury of his career.
“Asenjo seems to have torn his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his left knee. It’s a real shame,” said Villarreal coach Fran Escriba.
And his absence was to prove crucial for Real’s winner seven minutes from time as substitute goalkeeper Andres Fernandez let Alvaro Morata’s powerful header from Marcelo’s cross squeeze under his body to complete a rousing Real fightback.
Under-fire Barcelona coach Luis Enrique thanked the “terrible” state of Atletico’s pitch for Messi’s winner at the Vicente Calderon.
Messi stabbed home at the second attempt after his first effort was blocked to register his 27th career goal against Atletico.
“It was a terrible pitch for passing the ball, but I think it favoured us for both the goals,” said Enrique.
Rafinha’s scrappy effort fired Barca into the lead just after the hour, but Atletico responded seven minutes later through Diego Godin.
Defeat leaves fourth-placed Atletico just one point clear of Real Sociedad in the battle for the final Champions League slot.
“We competed very well, but they showed their class in both areas,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.
Following their Champions League thrashing at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain and struggles at home to Leganes last weekend, Enrique switched from the Catalans’ habitual 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3 with Messi forced into an advanced midfield role.
The change in tactics did little to stem Barca’s slump in form early on as Atletico dominated the opening half hour.
Atletico’s best effort of the opening half came from long range, though, as Antoine Griezmann’s driven effort on his weaker right foot forced a brilliant flying save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Luis Suarez screwed horribly wide after being played in by Messi at the start of the second-half.
Then at the other end, ter Stegen made another excellent stop to deny Griezmann from a narrow angle.
The deadlock was eventually broken in scrappy fashion on 63 minutes as Rafinha profited from a loose ball inside the area to fire low into the far corner.
However, the lead lasted only seven minutes as Godin rose higher than a host of Barca defenders to flick home Koke’s free-kick for the equaliser.
Yet, when Barca needed a potential season-defining goal, Messi again came up trumps with his 35th in as many games this season.
The five-time World Player of the Year’s first effort from Suarez’s cut-back was blocked, but he followed up to prod past the helpless Jan Oblak and move Barca top of the table for a few hours.
Gareth Bale hopes three tough months on the sidelines will have their recompense by helping Real Madrid’s bid for La Liga and Champions League glory and Wales’ hopes of reaching the World Cup.
Bale made an instant impact on his first taste of action for 88 days after damaging ankle ligaments as he fired home Madrid’s second in a 2-0 win over Espanyol on Saturday just 13 minutes after coming off the bench.
And the Welshman hopes he can match his fantastic form from the final three months of last season after suffering from injury problems earlier in the campaign.
“Every cloud has a silver lining, hopefully I am a bit fresher than maybe some others,” said Bale.
“It can work in my advantage to be out for a little bit, but the important thing now is to get back to 100 percent and playing well and to help the team.”
Victory took Real four points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga with a game in hand.
However, Zinedine Zidane’s men face an intense final few months of the campaign with 18 La Liga games and their defence of the Champions League still to play for.
Bale’s return is also a timely boost for Wales boss Chris Coleman ahead of his side’s crunch World Cup qualifier away to the Republic of Ireland on March 24.
“I plan not to get injured any more,” added Bale.
“Hopefully now I can keep building my fitness up over the next few weeks…hopefully I can be fit for Real Madrid as soon as possible to play 90 minutes, and obviously for Wales as well.”
Bale was given a hero’s reception on his return by the Santiago Bernabeu crowd.
And he admitted getting on the scoresheet was just a bonus to the joy of being back among the action.
“I was happy just to be on the pitch. To get a goal is an extra bonus and thankful to help the team and see the game off,” he continued.
“There has been some tough moments, but we have an amazing medical team here. Jaime Benito (physio) has been incredible for me, my family have been amazing, my fiancee, my kids.
“It’s been a difficult time but when you get a reception like that it makes it all worth it.”
Madrid face tougher tests over the next week with trips to Valencia and Villarreal to come.
And Bale insisted he isn’t expecting to be rushed back into the starting line-up by Zidane.
“I’ve been out for three months so it will take a few weeks to get back to 100 percent, it’s just about managing my game time.
“It depends how I feel game-by-game. Today was 20 minutes. I will speak with the manager about Valencia and Villarreal.”
However, Zidane admitted Bale brings special qualities that others can’t offer.
“We only have one Gareth Bale,” said the Frenchman. “We are happy to see Gareth back with the team. He is a special player, he gives us something different from the rest.”
Gareth Bale will make his return from a three-month injury layoff when Real Madrid host Espanyol on Saturday, coach Zinedine Zidane confirmed on Friday.
However, Zidane has handed a weekend off to a host of other key men as Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Keylor Navas were not included in the Frenchman’s 19-man squad.
Bale hasn’t featured since suffering ankle ligament damage in November and is expected to be eased back into action as a second-half substitute.
“Bale is with us. He will be in the squad and the idea is that he has minutes,” Zidane said on Friday.
“He is an important player. He has quality, pace, we know the damage he can do to the opponents.
“We are happy and he is even more so to get back playing. He is desperate to return.”
Madrid can move four points clear of Barcelona with a game in hand at the top of La Liga should they record a 10th consecutive victory over Espanyol.
However, after the demands of an intense 3-1 Champions League last 16 first leg win over Napoli in midweek and a La Liga trip to Valencia to come on Wednesday, Zidane insisted he didn’t want to take any risks with the fitness of Navas, Ramos, Modric or Benzema.
“We have two or three players with niggles. Not significant injuries, but niggles.”
Navas’s absence means Zidane’s son Luca is included in the squad as the third choice goalkeeper.
Zidane has already handed a first-team debut to his eldest son Enzo this season.
However, Kiko Casilla will start in goal, whilst Zidane confirmed that Alvaro Morata will finally get his chance to start in place of Benzema up front.
Spanish international Morata has been linked with a move away from the Bernabeu come the end of the season after becoming frustrated at his lack of action since rejoining the European champions from Juventus in June.
“I don’t want him to go. Alvaro is at home here,” added Zidane.
“He has had minutes, although fewer than Karim. Tomorrow he will start and I know that it is not the last game that he will start.”
Real Madrid shrugged off conceding an early away goal to take a huge step towards a seventh straight Champions League quarter-final as goals from Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Casemiro sealed a 3-1 win over Napoli on Wednesday.
Lorenzo Insigne’s stunning 40-yard strike had the travelling hordes in dream land after just eight minutes of the last 16 first leg.
However, Benzema soon headed home an equaliser before Kroos and Casemiro fired home from outside the box early in the second half to give the holders a commanding lead ahead of the second leg on March 7.
“We played a great game, above all at the start,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
“The shame was to concede given the start we made, but we equalised quickly to get back in the game and in the end it is a logical result.”
Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri lamented his side’s slackness in possession, but believes they still have a chance back at the San Paolo given it had taken what he considered Real’s best performance in three months to beat them.
“Clearly Madrid played their best game of the past three months and we didn’t play our best,” said Sarri.
“If we manage to play at our best we are not that far away. We may lose (in the second leg) but we can go for it.”
With former Napoli great Diego Maradona watching on, the atmosphere reached fever pitch before kick-off as up to 10,000 travelling fans were estimated to have made the trip from Naples for only their side’s second ever appearance in the last 16.
By contrast, Real are in the knockout stages for the 20th straight season and it was the home fans who nearly had something to cheer inside 30 seconds as Benzema’s shot from close range was parried by Pepe Reina.
However, it was Napoli who got off to the perfect start just eight minutes in when Insigne took aim from 40 yards and caught Madrid ‘keeper Keylor Navas out of position with a superb effort that curled around the Costa Rica international.
Madrid, though, showed the response of champions to level just 10 minutes later when Dani Carvajal’s cross with the outside of his right boot picked out Benzema to power home a header from close range.
Cristiano Ronaldo should have had one of the two goals he needs to reach 100 in European competition on 27 minutes when great work from Benzema and Luka Modric freed the World Player of the Year inside the area, but he blasted well over the bar.
Madrid’s control of the first 45 minutes grew as the half went on and only a combination of Reina and the post denied the hosts a lead at the break.
This time Ronaldo was inch-perfect with his low cross for Benzema, but his effort was tipped onto the woodwork and behind by Reina.
The tie did swing decisively in Madrid’s favour within 10 minutes of the restart however.
Firstly, Ronaldo played provider once more with a fine run down the right and measured cut-back for Kroos to slot home from the edge of the box.
Then Napoli were struck by a thunderbolt from the most unlikely source as defensive midfielder Casemiro pounced on a looping clearance to volley first-time past a helpless Reina.
Napoli had the chances to set up a thrilling return leg as Dries Mertens, who had scored 14 goals in his previous 11 appearances, fired over with the goal at his mercy from former Madrid winger Jose Maria Callejon’s fine lay-off.
Mertens also saw another effort smothered by Navas from close range and Callejon a goal ruled out for offside as Napoli slumped to their first defeat in 19 games.
Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane hopes to have Gareth Bale back before the second leg of his side’s Champions League last 16 clash with Napoli.
The postponement of Madrid’s visit to Celta Vigo last weekend due to storm damage caused to Celta’s Balaidos stadium has allowed Zidane to recover a fully-fit squad bar Bale, who is still working his way back from ankle ligament damage.
The Welshman hasn’t featured since late November and whilst Wednesday’s first leg against the Italians is likely to come too early, Zidane is confident of having Bale back well before the return in Naples on March 7.
“The return isn’t till March 7 so hopefully he is with us before then,” Zidane said on Friday.
“He is back on the field and the only step he has left is to train with the rest of the team.
“He is working very hard and I can see the desire he has.”
The suspended Toni Kroos is Madrid’s only other absentee for Saturday’s visit to rock bottom Osasuna.
Marcelo, Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal are among those to return from injury
However, Madrid have only won one of their past six league meetings away at Osasuna and Zidane is not expecting an easy ride despite the fact the Navarrans are yet to win at home in La Liga this season.
“We have had time to work, physically we are good and ready to play,” added Zidane.
“It is a very difficult place to go and we know that it is top against bottom, which I don’t like at all.
“It has always been difficult for us at El Sadar and that isn’t going to change.”
Real Madrid extended their La Liga lead to four points and still have a game in hand over their title rivals as Cristiano Ronaldo was on target in a 3-0 win over Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Earlier on Sunday, Barcelona were left to rue La Liga’s lack of goal line technology as they weren’t awarded a clear goal in a controversial 1-1 draw at Real Betis.
However, Barca still moved up to second on goal difference as Sevilla were reduced to 10 men after just two minutes in a 3-1 defeat at Espanyol.
Madrid had won only one of their previous five games and were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by Celta Vigo in midweek.
However, even without six first-team regulars through injury, Real took a huge step towards a first La Liga title for five years against an in-form Sociedad, who remain just one point off the top four in fifth.
“After a few difficult days we were back to being ourselves tonight. It was a complete performance against a strong opponent,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.
“We can say it has been a good night for us because our rivals have drawn or lost.”
Mateo Kovacic opened the scoring with the only real chance of the first-half as he timed his late run from midfield perfectly for Ronaldo’s through ball and slotted low beyond Geronimo Rulli.
The roles were reversed six minutes into the second-half as this time Kovacic’s pass split the Sociedad defence and Ronaldo coolly chipped the onrushing Rulli for his 20th goal of the season.
Sociedad’s uphill task was made impossible 15 minutes from time when Inigo Martinez was sent-off for a second bookable offence.
And Alvaro Morata made the 10 men pay as he bulleted home Lucas Vazquez’s cross for the third eight minutes from time.
There was far more drama at the Benito Villamarin as Barca were largely outplayed by Betis, but still felt hard done by after referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez failed to award them an equaliser when the ball crossed the Betis line shortly after Alex Alegria’s opener 15 minutes from time.
“We have to help the referees,” Barca boss Luis Enrique told BeIN Sports Spain.
“The technology can help them. I say that for all situations not just ones that go for me, but against me too.”
Luis Suarez did at least rescue a point in the dying seconds, though, as he slotted home Lionel Messi’s through ball for his 21st goal of the season.
However, he was less understanding as he claimed the ball “was a metre over the line.”
The hosts dominated opening 75 minutes as Dani Ceballos saw a dipping long-range effort come back off the bar before Ruben Castro struck the post with Marc-Andre ter Stegen beaten at his near post.
The German goalkeeper had a moment to forget for the opening goal as he failed to get a good connection on an attempted punch under pressure from two Betis players and the ball fell kindly for Alegria to tap home.
Conceding appeared to wake Barca from their slumber and they were doubly denied by Hernandez seconds later as Neymar went down inside the area and the ball ricocheted off Riza Durmisi and over his own line despite Alissa Mandi’s best efforts.
Yet, La Liga’s refusal to implement goal line technology due to pricing fears cost Barca dearly as no goal was given.
Betis should have sealed the three points when Castro broke clear on goal eight minutes from time, but Ter Stegen redeemed himself with a fine save.
And that miss proved crucial as Messi finally found the space to slip a pass through the Betis defence and Suarez dispatched the ball into the far corner.
“The feeling I have is that we have won one point (not lost two),” added Enrique.
There was also refereeing controversy at Espanyol as Sevilla’s shot at moving top lasted barely two minutes when Nico Pareja was very harshly sent-off on top of conceding a penalty for a trip on Pablo Piatti.
Former Sevilla favourite Jose Antonio Reyes showed no mercy to his former club as he converted from the spot, but Stefan Jovetic levelled for the 10 men inside 20 minutes.
Reyes haunted Sevilla once more as his free-kick was headed home by Marc Navarro in first-half stoppage time.
And Gerard Moreno sealed the three points for Espanyol as this time Navarro was the supplier for his headed finish.
Real Madrid host high-flying Real Sociedad on Sunday aiming to reverse an alarming dip in form that has seen Zinedine Zidane’s seemingly unbeatable squad just two weeks ago fail to win in three of their last four matches.
The European champions bowed out of the Copa del Rey to Celta Vigo in midweek with a 2-2 draw at Balaidos not enough to overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit.
Zidane’s men still enjoy a one point lead over Sevilla, with Barcelona a point further adrift in third, and a game in hand over their title rivals.
However, the visit of Sociedad, who are level on points with fourth-placed Atletico Madrid, kicks off a daunting run of fixtures for Real with four away league games to follow in February.
“I prefer it to happen now than in a month’s time with La Liga or the Champions League on the line,” protested Madrid captain Sergio Ramos on Real’s slump.
Madrid’s dip in form has coincided with a series of injury problems with seven first-team regulars missing the trip to Vigo.
Only Raphael Varane is expected to return for the weekend with Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Luka Modric, Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Pepe again unavailable.
Zidane has particular problems at full-back as the much-criticised Danilo suffered another harrowing night in scoring an own goal in midweek, whilst Marcelo’s understudy Fabio Coentrao has made just one previous La Liga appearance this season.
Sociedad are also suffering a Copa del Rey hangover as they were thumped 5-2 by Barcelona on Thursday to bow out 6-2 on aggregate.
Luis Enrique’s men have the chance to leapfrog Madrid and Sevilla to the top of the table for at least a few hours as they are the first of the top three in action on Sunday away at Real Betis.
“We wanted a good performance to keep the positive run we are on since the start of 2017 going,” said Barca midfielder Denis Suarez after netting twice against Sociedad.
“Now we have to think about the game at Betis, win it, and put pressure on those at the top.”
There is another Seville against Barcelona clash as La Liga’s most in-form side Sevilla travel to Espanyol looking for a sixth straight win.
Jorge Sampaoli’s men have registered Sevilla’s best ever points tally for the first half of the season and can also go top ahead of kick-off at the Bernabeu with another victory.
Spanish international Vitolo remains out injured, but Samir Nasri should return after missing last weekend’s 4-2 win at Osasuna.
The other two Copa del Rey semi-finalists go head-to-head in Vitoria as Alaves host Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Villarreal’s poor start to the year has seen them fall behind in the chase for the top four, but the visit of lowly Granada provides the Yellow Submarine a great chance for their first win of 2017.
And Valencia’s recent revival will be tested as they try to inflict Las Palmas’ first home league defeat of the season on Monday.
Real Madrid will recover their killer instinct in front of goal, coach Zinedine Zidane warned as his side’s treble ambitions ended with elimination from the Copa del Rey at the hands of Celta Vigo on Wednesday.
A 2-2 draw on the night at Balaidos saw Celta progress to the semi-finals 4-3 on aggregate as Zidane’s men have now failed to win in three of their last four games following a Spanish record 40-match unbeaten run.
“I am not worried, nor angry,” said the Frenchman. “Lately we’ve chances that we haven’t taken, that will change.”
Just as in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Malaga both Real’s goals on the night came from set-pieces.
However, Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning free-kick and Lucas Vazquez’s injury-time header from a corner weren’t enough as Celta twice went in front on the night through a Danilo own goal and Daniel Wass’s calm finish five minutes from time.
Zidane, though, rejected the claim that his side lack creativity, particularly with Luka Modric and James Rodriguez sidelined by injury.
“It is true that we didn’t score from open play. There were two more goals from dead balls, but tactically we played a great game,” he added.
“My sensation is that we played very well and that we pushed the opponents all the way to the end.”
In total Madrid were missing seven first-team regulars with Gareth Bale, Marcelo, Dani Carvajal, Pepe and Raphael Varane also out.
However, Vazquez believes it is unfair on those who came into the side to claim they were badly missed.
“We have shown throughout the whole season that whoever comes into the side responds,” the Spanish international told GolTV.
“Perhaps it is a bit opportunistic to say that today we missed the absentees.”
By contrast, Celta are now just three games away from landing a first ever major trophy.
Celta boss Eduardo Berizzo’s decision to make eight changes at the weekend in a 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad to ensure his players were well-rested proved justified as the hosts withstood a second-half onslaught.
“The players were capable of knocking out a giant like Real Madrid,” said Berizzo.
“We knew we would have to suffer. Madrid oblige you to have an almost heroic game in defence.
“Then when you have the chance to do them damage, you have to take it.
“I want to thank the fans for their support. The strength we feel together allows us to look to the future with excitement.”
Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were all on target as Barcelona shrugged off the loss of the injured Sergio Busquets to remain just two points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid with a 4-0 win at Eibar on Sunday.
Sevilla separate the giants of Spanish football in second, just a point behind Madrid, after twice coming from behind to edge a seven-goal thriller 4-3 at rock-bottom Osasuna.
However, Real Madrid also have a game in hand over their title rivals.
Barca’s visit to the Basque Country was only eight minutes in when Busquets had to be carried off with ankle ligament damage after a dangerous challenge from Gonzalo Escalante that went unpunished.
“The good news about Sergio Busquets is that it doesn’t look as serious as we first thought,” Barca boss Luis Enrique told Spanish TV station Movistar.
The visitors were briefly unsettled as a fine save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen prevented Adrian Gonzalez giving Eibar a shock lead at the tiny 6,200 capacity Ipurua.
Yet, there was little doubt over the outcome once Denis Suarez, who had replaced Busquets, drilled home his first Barca goal into the far corner from outside the box on the half hour mark.
Neymar missed a one-on-one and Luis Suarez hit the post as Barca squandered a series of chances to kill off the game before half-time.
However, Messi doubled their lead just six minutes into the second-half when he swept home Luis Suarez’s cross for his 28th goal in 26 games this season.
And Luis Suarez matched his strike partner as La Liga’s top scorer this season with 15 when he robbed Florian Lejeune before slotting home at the near post 22 minutes from time.
Neymar hadn’t scored from open play since October, but brought that run to an end by slotting home Aleix Vidal’s low cross in stoppage time.
“A positive run of results means everything flows better, the players have more confidence,” added Enrique after a fourth straight win.
“But we are still far off where we want to be.”
“The team did some good things and made mistakes, but from start to finish looked to win the game,” said Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli.
“To finish the first half of the season with a record number of points (42) and be second fills us with excitement for what is to come.”
Sergio Leon gave Osasuna a shock early lead before an unusual hat-trick from Sevilla captain Vicente Iborra levelled at 2-2 as he twice equalised either side of an own goal to restore Osasuna’s lead.
Osasuna were infuriated Franco Vazquez’s vital third goal for Sevilla was allowed to stand despite a push on Oriol Riera 10 minutes from time.
Pablo Sarabia’s fine left-footed shot from outside the area sealed the points, but there was still time for Osasuna to pull another goal back when Kenan Kodro headed in from close range.
Atletico Madrid lost further ground on the top three as they needed a spectacular Antoine Griezmann equaliser 10 minutes from time to secure a 2-2 draw at Athletic Bilbao.
Diego Simeone’s men are now eight points back on Real Madrid.
The visitors got off to the perfect start when Koke’s cross towards Griezmann evaded everyone and flew into the far corner after just three minutes.
However, Atletico were punished for trying to sit on their lead when Inigo Lekue smashed home an equaliser three minutes before half-time.
Athletic then went in front as former Atletico favourite Raul Garcia crossed for Oscar de Marcos to head home.
Griezmann had already had one spectacular finish ruled out by the offside flag, but the French international continued his fine form with a rasping low drive from 25 yards to at least salvage a point for Atletico.
Real Sociedad move level on points with Atletico in fourth as Juanmi’s towering header 18 minutes from time handed them a 1-0 win over Celta Vigo.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane dismissed criticism of his side’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo on Friday following a dip in form that has coincided with Real losing two consecutive games after setting a Spanish record unbeaten run of 40 games.
Ronaldo struggled to influence Real’s 2-1 home defeat at by Celta Vigo in the King’s Cup on Wednesday and the 2-1 reverse to Sevilla last Sunday that cut their lead at the top of La Liga to a point, although he did convert a penalty.
The forward recently won the 2016 Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s The Best accolade for leading Real to last season’s Champions League and captaining Portugal to glory at Euro 2016. He has 12 goals in La Liga this season, two behind top scorers Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.
The Portuguese, however, has attracted renewed criticism in the Spanish media for his lack of impact in big games, failing to find the net against Barcelona, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao, although he did net a hat-trick against local rivals Atletico Madrid.
“Cristiano is always going to be criticised, when he doesn’t score or when he plays in a different position, but he’s used to that, he’s focused like everyone else on the next game,” former Real midfielder Zidane told a news conference on Friday ahead of the game against Malaga.
“He’s always going to be the player that makes the difference for this team. Sometimes he might play badly, that used to happen to me sometimes, but so what? The important thing is that he keeps working hard.”
Although Zidane was critical of his side following the loss to Celta, lamenting their lack of intensity and concentration, he said he was relaxed about the team’s form despite suffering two successive defeats for the first time as Real coach.
“This is football, you can’t win all the time, just like in life. My mind is only focused on work and thinking how we can improve. There was room for improvement before we had lost. We have to focus more, but I’m not worried,” he added.
“There’s no rule saying you can never slip up again. I’m always under pressure, I knew that when I signed my contract, I will always feel it until the day I leave but it makes me grow stronger every day.”
Real will be without Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez due to a calf injury against Malaga and Dani Carvajal, who has been ruled out for a month with a hamstring problem. Gareth Bale and Pepe are still sidelined.
Cristiano Ronaldo paraded his fourth Ballon d’Or and powered home his first goal of 2017 as Real Madrid equalled Barcelona’s Spanish record 39-game unbeaten run with a 5-0 demolition of lowly Granada on Saturday.
Sevilla leapfrogged Barca into second, four points behind Real, thanks to Wissam Ben Yedder’s hat-trick in a hugely impressive 4-0 win at sixth-placed Real Sociedad, whilst Atletico Madrid won 2-0 at Eibar to move up to fourth.
At the Bernabeu, Ronaldo was honoured by previous Ballon d’Or winners to have played for Madrid including Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Michael Owen and his coach Zinedine Zidane before kick-off.
And Real’s relentless run stretching back to April last year continued once the action got underway as they scored four times in the opening half-hour.
Isco and Karim Benzema slotted home from close range before Ronaldo, who had been rested for Real’s 3-0 Copa del Rey win over Sevilla in midweek, bulleted home a header from Marcelo’s cross.
Another simple finish from Isco made it four before the break and Casemiro turned home James Rodriguez’s free-kick for the fifth after half-time.
Barca can close back to within three points of the leaders with victory at Villarreal on Sunday.
“There is no limit, but on the other hand we have to do everything possible to make sure it lasts,” Zidane said of his side’s stunning form.
The Frenchman made four changes from the side that saw off Sevilla with ease in midweek with Keylor Navas returning in goal and all of Ronaldo, Benzema and Isco coming in up front.
Once again Zidane was vindicated as all three of the frontline scored in a rapid start.
The hosts got a break for the opener as Isco could have been penalised for a trip on Sergi Samper before he exchanged passes with Benzema and slotted low past Guillermo Ochoa.
Madrid were also fortunate for the second as Benzema appeared offside when he prodded into an empty net after Ochoa tamely parried Luka Modric’s shot into his path.
Real captain for the day Marcelo marked the 10-year anniversary since his debut with a pinpoint cross from which Ronaldo powered home his 17th goal of the season.
And with the Granada defence once again pulled apart by Madrid’s movement, Modric’s low cross found an unmarked Isco for a simple finish at the back post for his second of the afternoon.
“The matches are prepared in a certain way depending on whether we have two, three or four days, but the idea is always to do our best, be physically ready and concentrated,” added Zidane.
“If we are ready and concentrated we can do great things.”
Madrid understandably eased off in the second half, but the European champions did net a fifth just before the hour mark when Casemiro was left unmarked to bundle home substitute Rodriguez’s free-kick at the back post.
Ronaldo is expected to pick up another individual trophy in FIFA’s inaugural The Best award for 2016 on Monday, but one of his rivals for the prize ended a three-month goal drought in La Liga as Antoine Griezmann sealed Atletico’s 2-0 win at Eibar.
After a first-half short on goal mouth action, Saul Niguez nodded Atletico in front eight minutes after the break.
Griezmann hadn’t netted in 821 La Liga minutes since October 2, but bundled home from close range after a one-two with Kevin Gameiro 16 minutes from time.
However, it is Sevilla who are Real’s closest challengers as they bounced back in style from their midweek mauling to inflict Sociedad’s first home defeat since the opening day of the season.
Ben Yedder did most of the damage as he struck twice in four first-half minutes to put the visitors in command.
And despite en early rally by Sociedad at the start of the second period, Ben Yedder then teed up Pablo Sarabia to kill the game 17 minutes from time.
Ben Yedder produced another cool finish to complete his first La Liga hat-trick in the closing stages and take his tally for the season to an impressive 15.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 500th club goal Thursday as Real Madrid eased past Mexico’s Club America 2-0 to reach the Club World Cup final in Japan.
The Spanish giants will face shock finalists Kashima Antlers, the J-League champions, in Yokohama on Sunday as they look to capture their second world title in three years and fifth in total.
“Our sole aim was to reach the final — so it’s job done,” Real coach Zinedine Zidane told reporters after goals from Karim Benzema and Ronaldo extended his side’s club record unbeaten run to 36 matches in all competitions.
“We didn’t have a great rhythm in the first half, but in the second half we created more chances and Cristiano was able to kill the game off so I’m very happy,” added the Frenchman.
“It was a long flight to Japan and we have very few days to rest and prepare for the final, but we have come here to win this Club World Cup.”
His countryman Benzema said: “It was a hard game against a tough team. The conditions were difficult too with the long journey we’ve had, but we played well and won the game — now for the final.”
With Ronaldo firing blanks until scoring with virtually the last kick of the game, Benzema struck in first-half stoppage time, finishing clinically with the outside of his right boot after a deft pass from Toni Kroos.
Ronaldo, who scooped his fourth Ballon d’Or earlier this week, had already squandered a gilt-edged opportunity by heading against the post.
The Portuguese superstar also saw two stinging efforts blocked by goalkeeper Moises Munoz but his dogged persistence paid off when he swept home from a tight angle deep into injury time.
Confusion followed, however, when it appeared the goal could be ruled out using the video technology being trialled by FIFA in Japan.
Ronaldo’s face turned to thunder as the Mexicans protested he had been offside — until Paraguayan referee Enrique Caceres finally indicated that the goal stood.
“It’s a new invention but to be honest I don’t like it,” said man of the match Luka Modric when asked about video replays.
“It causes confusion. I hope they don’t continue with this system because for me it is not football.”
Zidane refused to criticise the technology, although his comments hardly amounted to a ringing endorsement either.
“If you ask my personal impression, it could cause problems,” he said. “But if it’s FIFA policy then we have to get used to it. We don’t have the power to decide. Maybe it will help make things clear and transparent.”
The 31-year-old Ronaldo has hit a remarkable 377 goals in 366 games for Real with 118 more in 292 games for Manchester United and five in 31 for Sporting before that.
Club America coach Ricardo La Volpe insisted his side had been unfortunate to lose.
“I think the luck was against,” growled the firebrand Argentine.
“Real Madrid were not the better team. I told the players they can be proud of the way they fought,” he added. “It was a very tight game which we dominated for periods, but we were not aggressive enough. We just couldn’t find the final ball.”
Real Madrid can set a club record by extending their unbeaten run to 35 games when Deportivo la Coruna visit the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.
Deportivo’s last visit to Real was Zinedine Zidane’s first match in charge back in January and the 5-0 thrashing of the Galicians was a sign of things to come in a dream debut year for the Frenchman as a senior coach.
Madrid haven’t tasted defeat since April, winning the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and opening up a six-point La Liga lead over Barcelona in the process.
“You have to congratulate the players,” insisted Zidane humbly after Madrid had to settle for qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League in second place behind Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.
“They are the ones that are on the pitch, that have to fight and run.”
Los Blancos will be looking for the perfect end to their La Liga campaign for 2016 as they head for the Club World Cup in Japan on Sunday.
However, Deportivo have also been buoyed by a surprise 5-1 romp over high-flying Real Sociedad on Monday to register a first league win since early October and move out of the relegation zone in the process.
“I am always optimistic and I am going there with the hope of getting something from the game,” said Deportivo boss Gaizka Garitano.
“We are in the more desperate situation and we are not going to the Bernabeu just to make up the numbers.”
Madrid are at full strength bar the absence of Gareth Bale.
Toni Kroos and Alvaro Morata made their return from injury in the 2-2 with Dortmund in midweek and are likely to feature once more, whilst Mateo Kovacic could be recalled after being rested on Wednesday.
Barcelona can cut the gap to three points before Madrid kick-off with victory at rock bottom Osasuna earlier on Saturday.
After the blow of conceding a last minute equaliser to Madrid in last weekend’s El Clasico, Barca got back to winning ways with a morale boosting 4-0 thrashing of Borussia Moenchengladbach on Tuesday.
Crucially the returning Andres Iniesta has starred in his first two appearances after a six-week injury layoff over the past week.
With their captain restored, the Catalans looked like the Barca of old by registering a competition record 993 passes against the Germans in midweek.
“The most important thing is that the team continues to believe in what it does and how it does it,” said Iniesta.
“I am convinced we will get to the final months of the season in the hunt for all the trophies.”
Neymar is suspended so Arda Turan is expected to deputise alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in attack after netting a hat-trick against Moenchengladbach.
Sevilla were the one Spanish side not assured of their place in the Champions League last 16 before this week, but ground out a 0-0 draw at Lyon to progress.
However, struggles on the road have been a common theme for Jorge Sampaoli’s men as despite lying third in La Liga, seven points adrift of Real, they have won just four of their 12 away games this season.
The Europa League holders will be keen to make amends for a shock 2-1 defeat at Granada last weekend and maintain a two-point lead over Atletico Madrid when they travel to Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Atletico aren’t in action until Monday when they visit sixth-placed Villarreal in a crucial clash in the fight to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Barcelona’s winless streak at Real Sociedad stretched to eight games as the Spanish champions were outplayed in a 1-1 draw on Sunday that leaves them six points adrift of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.
A sumptuous finish from Lionel Messi spared Barca’s blushes after Willian Jose had headed Sociedad into a deserved lead just after half-time.
And Barca were fortunate to escape without a fifth consecutive league defeat in San Sebastian as Carlos Vela hit the woodwork twice and Juanmi’s header was wrongly ruled out for offside.
“It is almost a miracle that we took a point,” Barca boss Luis Enrique told BeIN Sports Spain.
“Real Sociedad were infinitely better than us with and without the ball. They won all the battles.”
A point is enough to move Barca up to second, but they now desperately need to beat Madrid in the first El Clasico of the season at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
Earlier, Atletico Madrid got back to winning ways and moved back into the top four as goals from Diego Godin, Kevin Gameiro and Yannick Carrasco ensured a comfortable 3-0 win at Osasuna.
Barcelona still haven’t won in San Sebastian since 2007, but were grateful for the point as Sociedad failed to cash in on their superiority.
“Playing like this it will be very difficult to win the league,” added Barca defender Gerard Pique.
Xabi Prieto headed a guilt-edged chance wide, whilst Vela also fired off target when well-placed inside the area before the break.
The visitors’ first effort on target came on 50 minutes when Geronimo Rulli turned behind Neymar’s free-kick.
However, Sociedad went in front three minutes later when Pique, who played on in the second-half with a severely strapped ankle, could only slash Jose’s effort into his own net after Marc-Andre ter Stegen had blocked Vela’s initial effort.
Neymar started up front for Barca despite suffering a minor car accident in his Ferrari on Sunday morning.
And the Brazilian finally kickstarted a lame Barca display six minutes later as he burst down the left and crossed for Messi to apply a characteristically clinical finish for his 19th goal in 16 games this season.
Sociedad were cruelly denied 14 minutes from time when a wonderful hit by Vela came back off the underside of the bar and substitute Juanmi’s finish from the rebound was wrongly ruled out for offside.
Asier Illarramendi then cleared off the line from Denis Suarez at the other end before Vela struck the woodwork again with a low effort that clipped the post in a frantic finale.
Atletico had suffered back-to-back La Liga defeats for the first time in four years at the hands of Sociedad and Real Madrid in recent weeks.
However, they never looked in danger after Jan Oblak had saved Roberto Torres’s penalty with the scores still level at 0-0.
Godin nodded home Koke’s corner nine minutes before half-time and almost straight from kick-off Angel Correa released Gameiro to double Atletico’s lead.
Substitute Carrasco rounded off the scoring with his eighth goal of the season in stoppage time.
“It was a very important game for us for the way in which we ended up playing,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.
Atletico leapfrog Villarreal, who earlier lost 2-0 at home to Alaves, into fourth and move back to within nine points of Real Madrid.
“Oblak was decisive with the penalty save and after Godin’s goal we felt more comfortable,” added Simeone.
“In the second half we were a lot more organised and had more of a collective effort which allowed us to kill off the game.”
Granada remain winless and rooted to the bottom after a 3-1 defeat at Celta Vigo.