Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane denied that his team are over-reliant on superstar Cristiano Ronaldo after the Portugal international scored for a 10th consecutive game in Sunday’s 1-1 La Liga derbi at home to Atletico Madrid.
An entertaining game — despite both teams having half an eye on UEFA competition second legs next week — saw Ronaldo volley Madrid ahead early in the second half, only for Antoine Griezmann to equalise just four minutes later.
Zidane only used Luka Modric and Karim Benzema as substitutes and withdrew Ronaldo in the 64th minute, thinking of Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal second leg at home to Juventus and further games to come in that competition.
Madrid’s results suffered badly earlier in the season when Ronaldo’s form took a dip, with the team flying through recent months as the goals have flowed from the reigning Ballon d’Or winner. However, the Blancos coach told his postgame news conference that he also has other players who can score, though none could find a winner on Sunday
“Cristiano is Cristiano, he has been this player all his life, scoring 50 goals a season,” Zidane said. “It is true that there is nobody else who does that. But others can score, have done recently, and we must think about the positive. It’s better to have Cristiano with us.”
Zidane confirmed that the decision to withdraw the 33-year-old with the game still in the balance had been precautionary: “It was just [to rest]. We have many games, that’s it. Sometimes he needs to rest. These days he needs that. He feels better every day, you can see it.”
Madrid struck the woodwork in the first half through Marco Asensio and Marcelo, while both goalkeepers Keylor Navas and Jan Oblak were busy in the second half.
“I am happy with the game,” Zidane said. “We deserved more today, clearly. It is a pity as we had many chances. But we could also have lost the game.
“We had many chances in the first half, but did not score. We did early in the second half, but then we had 10 minutes after the goal which were a bit difficult, and then they scored the goal. But I am happy as we really tried to play, to press them, but the pity is we did not get the three points.”
With his team now 15 points behind leaders Barcelona with seven games remaining, Zidane more or less conceded that the target for the La Liga season was making up the four points to second-placed Atletico.
“We will try and get the points in every game,” he said. “Today we could not do it, although we had many chances. But our objective remains the same, to try and cut the gap in points, and get to second place.”
A worry for Zidane was an injury which ruled out defender Jesus Vallejo, who was pencilled in to start against Juventus on Wednesday when club captain Sergio Ramos is suspended, with no other specialist centre-back available.
“Jesus felt something after yesterday’s training,” the Frenchman explained. “And we never like to take risks. I hope it is not much, and Jesus is with us on Wednesday. If not we will see what we do.”
Zidane said talk of Madrid being favourites to win this season’s Champions League, to lift the trophy for a third successive year, was not something he wanted to hear.
“I don’t like hearing that, not at all,” he said. “We must just think about Wednesday’s second leg. We have to do everything possible to go through, and just think about that. Not what happened in the past, or further into the future.”
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan