MADRID, Spain, Jul 15 – Zinedine Zidane has warned his players not to believe La Liga is already won as Real Madrid chase the last victory they need against Villarreal on Thursday.
With a four-point cushion ahead of Barcelona and only two games left to play, Madrid will be uncatchable if they win at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium, regardless of Barca’s result at home to Osasuna.
It means a third league title in eight years is now firmly within their grasp, following a relentless run of form that has seen Madrid win nine games out of nine since the restart from coronavirus lockdown.
Madrid could even afford to lose to Villarreal if they beat Leganes on Sunday but Zidane is wary of complacency.
“There is a lot of noise about celebrations and holidays and all that but tomorrow we have a game, period,” said Zidane in a press conference on Wednesday.
“We have to focus all our energy on tomorrow, nothing else. There is a lot of talk but all the players, everyone who works at the club, is only thinking about the game.
“Nobody knows what will happen until it happens.”
While Barca’s ageing squad has struggled with the frequency of matches since the suspension, Madrid appear to have revelled in the intensity of a compressed calendar.
“It was something quite particuar that when we started to work again after lockdown and after three months at home, the players had this desire to do something great,” said Zidane.
“I saw the players and they wanted something more, they were staying after training to do extra. That says everything you need to know about this team.”
Luis Suarez said in an interview with Diario Sport this week that winning La Liga is now “almost impossible” for Barcelona, who play Osasuna, hoping to take the title race to the final day.
“That’s his opinion,” said Barca coach Quique Setien. “The truth is La Liga is not yet lost because anything can happen but we know it is difficult.
“Not so much because of our failings, that we have had three draws, but Madrid’s success. They have done things better but we will continue fighting until the end.”
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said on Sunday that Setien will remain in charge for the Champions League but doubts remain about next season.
When Bartomeu sacked Ernesto Valverde in January, Barca were top of the table, albeit on goal difference, but Setien insists he is not entirely to blame.
“I take responsibility but not all of it,” said Setien. “When people look for a scapegoat they always look at the coach but I don’t feel like I did things so badly.
“I would more give credit to Madrid, who have won all their games.”
Setien said Frenkie de Jong has recovered from a calf injury and and is ready to feature against Osasuna while Zidane reported Eden Hazard is now “totally fine”.
Hazard has not started any of Madrid’s last four games after feeling pain in the same right ankle he had surgery on in March. “He’s better and he’s with us,” Zidane said.
Zidane also reacted with frustration when asked if it would be best if Gareth Bale left the club this summer.
Bale’s future has again been the subject of debate after he was pictured with his face mask over his eyes during the win over Alaves on Friday.
“This question again. You try to put things between us but you won’t be able to,” said Zidane. “We’re united. Gareth, James (Rodriguez), everyone.”