MADRID • Three-time World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo hailed new manager Zinedine Zidane's impact on improving the Real Madrid squad's fitness after scoring a hat-trick in a 6-0 rout of Espanyol on Sunday.
Real have taken 10 points and scored 17 goals in four games since Zidane replaced Rafael Benitez earlier this month, and Ronaldo insisted the turnaround is due to the Frenchman's demands for the squad to get fitter.
"The team is working very hard. In the past three weeks you've seen that with the results on the pitch," he told Canal Plus.
"We needed to work harder as a team. Now we have a positive mentality. The pre-season wasn't good, there was a lot of travelling. Zizou has arrived with different ideas and we have to continue like this. He has done a phenomenal job. I feel a lot fitter."
Zidane has consistently stressed the importance of improving Madrid's fitness since he was appointed three weeks ago. His task has been helped by Real's early elimination from the Spanish King's Cup for fielding an ineligible player, freeing up their schedules for midweek trainings last month.
"We have had time to work," said the Frenchman. "This was the third week and the team is getting better physically, which is the most important thing for me.
"Our play with the ball doesn't worry me. We need to maintain this level of intensity and concentration. When the Champions League starts again we will have games every three days and won't have this time to work."
In keeping with their fast starts at the Santiago Bernabeu under Zidane, Madrid raced into a 4-0 half-time lead with Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez's first goal since November adding to Ronaldo's double.
The Portuguese forward sealed his latest La Liga hat-trick nine minutes from time before Oscar Duarte's own goal ensured a repeat scoreline from when the sides met earlier this season.
Victory took Real back to within four points of La Liga leaders Barcelona and one off city rivals Atletico Madrid. Barca also have a game in hand over both sides from the capital, but Zidane insisted Real can still land just their second title in eight seasons.