Zinedine Zidane insisted his Real Madrid team were “ready” for their Champions League final showdown with Liverpool despite throwing away a two-goal lead as Villarreal battled back to earn a 2-2 draw in their last La Liga match of the season.
Zidane, who admitted his team lacked focus with the final in mind, handed a debut to his 20-year-old son Luca as first-choice goalkeeper Keylor Navas was rested ahead of the European clash in Kiev on May 26, but otherwise named a strong side at Estadio de la Ceramica.
Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo put Real two goals to the good inside 32 minutes but Villarreal substitutes Roger Martinez and Samu Castillejo struck in the final 19 minutes to secure a dramatic draw for the Yellow Submarine.
Real, who will finish third in La Liga, now switch their attention to next weekend where they are bidding to become the first club to be crowned European champions for three successive seasons since Bayern Munich in 1976.
Despite the disappointment of not being able to head into the final on the back of a victory, Zidane insisted his squad were in good shape to take on Jurgen Klopp’s Reds at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium next Saturday night.
“I haven’t got my starting XI for the Champions League final in my head. We’re ready,” he said at a news conference.
“Also we haven’t picked up any injuries tonight, which was important. We’re ready for this last match and Kiev final, which is the most special game of the season.”
Zidane admits Real had the European showdown on their minds as they let slip their two-goal lead against Villarreal.
“We were good in the first half, but in the second period we managed the game with the final in mind. When that happens, the opposition can make life hard for you,” he said in quotes reported on the club’s official website:
“The La Liga season didn’t start well for us, but we have finished strongly. We have the biggest game to come and we’re going to enjoy that.
“La Liga is now over. We have the Champions League to play and we’re thrilled to be in the final.
“It shouldn’t be a case of choosing. We want to win everything we can, but this year it wasn’t possible to win La Liga and we are going all out for Champions League glory.”
Bale put Real ahead in the 11th minute after outfoxing his marker with a clever dummy. That was the Wales international’s fifth goal in his last four starts as he pushes for a start against Liverpool at the end of a testing campaign that has seen his future with Madrid come into question.
When asked about Real’s record signing, Zidane said: “Bale has never given up. He’s training well and the only thing that’s changed is that he’s now scoring goals, as he has done in the last few games.
“I’m pleased with his performance and what he brings to the team. Nothing has changed. The only difference is that he’s been scoring of late.”
Debutant Luca could not do much to prevent either goal for Villarreal, Martinez drilling a rising shot into the top corner and Castillejo then showing good footwork to round the young keeper and slot in from a tight angle.
Zidane seemed happy enough with his son’s contribution, Luca having pushed away a curling free kick from Nicola Sansone which flew over the wall and was dipping under the crossbar early in the second half.
“He’s part of the squad and he did well tonight. I’m delighted with his debut. He’s another squad player and that’s how I treat him,” the Frenchman said.
“He was yet to make his debut, he was the only member of the squad who hadn’t featured this season, and that’s why I put him in tonight. It’s an important day for him and for his coach.”