Zinedine Zidane has warned Real Madrid that LaLiga’s title race is far from over, despite their five-point gap at the top of the table.
Madrid claimed what could prove to be a crucial 2-1 win away to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday courtesy of goals from Karim Benzema and Casemiro, either side of an Aritz Aduriz header.
The result puts the European champions five points clear of Barcelona ahead of their trip to Valencia on Sunday and guarantees that they will head into the international break as leaders.
But with games against Atletico Madrid, Barca and Sevilla still to come in the final 11 rounds, Zidane has told his players not to rest on their laurels.
“We won on a difficult pitch,” he said. “We suffered a huge amount but we played with personality at the same time.
“We know Athletic will not give up until the end and they cause us some problems. They got a goal in the second half when they were playing well.
“It was important to win – we’re still on a good run. There are 11 games left, we’re top, but that means nothing. We know there are still difficult games left.”
Zidane took off Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo – who set up both goals – in the second half as Madrid switched to a 4-4-2 system in a bid to contain Athletic’s attack and hold on to their lead.
The head coach insisted there were no other concerns surrounding Ronaldo’s withdrawal and was happy with the balance they found as they saw out the match with relatively few concerns.
1 – Cristiano Ronaldo is the first Real Madrid player to reach double figures of goals (26) and assists (10) this season (all comps). Ace. pic.twitter.com/lYVxSy9csU
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 18, 2017
“Karim had a great game, more or less in the middle,” he said. “In the end we looked for more balance with a 4-2-2. Taking off Ronaldo doesn’t mean anything – he can go off from time to time. He was happy with the match.
“We needed more balance, and to defend more together. Cristiano, Gareth [Bale] and Karim gave a lot – that’s why we changed with Isco and [Alvaro] Morata.
“I was happy because we won the game, and that’s how I’ll stay.”
There have been calls for Keylor Navas to be dropped following some poor displays, but the Costa Rica international was in good form at San Mames, denying Inaki Williams, Oscar de Marcos and Raul Garcia with strong saves.
For Zidane, there is no question that Navas is the number one, ahead of Kiko Casilla and Ruben Yanez.
“The debate is closed for me,” he added. “We’re with Keylor, Kiko and Ruben. We have to continue like that. You can make a mistake, but he made important saves and it’s thanks to him and to the others that we won.”
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