Zinedine Zidane knows Real Madrid are in for a tough match at Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames fortress, but the coach does not expect Saturday’s crunch encounter to determine the outcome of LaLiga’s title race.
Madrid head to the Basque Country in first place, two points clear of Barcelona and with a game in hand over Luis Enrique’s reigning champions.
Athletic have not tasted defeat in their own backyard since going down 1-0 to the Catalan giants in the opening round of the season, while only Osasuna, Alaves and Atletico Madrid have earned draws away to Ernesto Valverde’s side.
“As you said, the only game that they have lost was against Barcelona,” Zidane replied when questioned about the challenging fixture at a news conference on Friday.
“We know it’s going to be a difficult game… and we know it’s a hostile atmosphere.”
Asked if matches away to teams outside the title race but with strong home form could ultimately dictate the outcome of LaLiga, he said: “I don’t know if they can decide the league. But they’re three big points for us.
“They’re going to defend strongly, they’re doing very well. We’re going to suffer, but we’re working hard, we’re confident, we’ve got good character, we need to put all these ingredients together to win.
“What we’re going to try and do is just put in a good performance and keep picking up points.”
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) March 17, 2017
Madrid finished second behind Barca last season despite winning 12 consecutive matches to conclude the league campaign, with the same number of games now remaining this term, prompting the media to remind the coach that producing the same streak would see Los Blancos capture the title for the first time since 2012.
“Pressure, we’re going to have pressure until the end,” Zidane said.
“What we did last year, if we can repeat it, that would be great. It’s in our hands at the moment but it’s a long [time], there’s a lot [of matches] left, it’s going to be tough. We’re going to take each game as it comes. That’s the best thing we can do.
“Yes, we can improve. That’s obvious. But we’re not playing badly. I think the results that we’ve achieved up until now have been good. You know what we did. And what’s left in this season, it’s going to be very important because everything is going to be decided now after the international break.
“April’s going to be a big month for us. We have a group and a squad to achieve good things. I’m happy because the best part of the season is coming, where everything is decided. I think the players know that. We’re focused on our objective, which is to win everything.”
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