Football: Zidane in no rush to bring Bale back

Bale has been out since suffering ankle ligament damage in November and is not expected to return before March.
Bale has been out since suffering ankle ligament damage in November and is not expected to return before March.PHOTO: AFP

Modric, Rodriguez expected to return next week, Welshman may be rested until March

MADRID • Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane believes he has no need to rush Gareth Bale back from a long-term ankle injury as the European champions extended their lead at the top of La Liga on Sunday.

Madrid saw off Real Sociedad 3-0 thanks to goals from Mateo Kovacic, Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata to open up a four-point lead on Barcelona and Sevilla and with a game in hand over their title rivals.

Three points from that game in hand against Valencia on Feb 22 offers them a chance to further boost their bid for a first league title since 2012.

Bale has been out since suffering ankle ligament damage in November and is not expected to return before March.

However, Zidane is hopeful of having Luka Modric and James Rodriguez back for Real's next outing at Celta Vigo.

"Our idea to is to have Luka back next week. We will see (how he is) on Tuesday and the same goes for James," said Zidane. "Gareth will take a while longer. He is now on the training pitch in boots which is a good sign, but we have to take it slowly."

Bale is expected to miss Real's Champions League last-16, first leg clash with Napoli on February 15 with the Welshman possibly making a return in time for the return leg on March 7.

Madrid approached the weekend ravaged by six injuries, and had begun to miss his presence as they won just one of their five previous games before Sociedad's visit.

That run included elimination at the hands of Celta in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals - ending their Spanish record-breaking 40-game unbeaten run - but Zidane admitted missing out on two more matches in the semi-finals over the next fortnight could ultimately prove a blessing for his injury-hit squad.

His side have seven days to prepare for their next league game while Barcelona have to contend with the Copa del Rey semi-finals first leg at Atletico Madrid on Wednesday before meeting Athletic Bilbao.

Zidane said: "We would have preferred to still be in it (Copa del Rey), but we have to think positively and we are going to have a full week to prepare first for La Liga and then the Champions League."

Madrid enjoyed a dream weekend as all of their title rivals slipped up.

Barcelona were held 1-1 at Real Betis, while Sevilla were reduced to 10 men in losing 1-3 at Espanyol.

"It gives you more motivation when you see your rivals slip up," added Zidane. "It gives you even more desire to do well."

Kovacic added: "We needed a game like this, now we're playing very well and need to keep going like this.

"We're four points clear and we have to take advantage of that and stay ahead until the end so we can win the league."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'No rush to bring Bale back'. Print Edition | Subscribe