By Musa Sunusi Ahmad

Zinedine Zidane spoke to the media on Monday lunchtime, ahead of Real Madrid’s Tuesday night match against Athletic Club. At the start of his press conference, which took place just after the Champions League last 16 draw, the coach was asked for his thoughts on Atalanta. He replied: “We know what kind of team they are. But, we’re going to play this in late February. I have the maximum respect for this opponent, but what matters for me is tomorrow’s match. It’s another great opportunity for us to show what we can do.”

Moving on to talk about the Athletic Club game, it was put to Zidane that this might be the kind of game in which Real Madrid take their foot off the gas and turn in a less enthusiastic performance, after a week of big games and big results. But, the coach challenged that notion. He said: “No, I don’t agree with you. We’re going to play for three more points. We didn’t win anything other than three points vs Atlético and now we have another three points to play for. We want to keep up our good dynamic. We want to keep up what we’ve been doing recently and show what we are as a team. It’s true that there are matches that are difficult, especially nowadays. There are no small teams anymore, like there were 15 or 20 years ago. We want to win every match, but that’s less and less easy nowadays.”

He was then asked about a couple of the players who aren’t getting many minutes right now, Marcelo and Isco. Zidane said: “It’s true that Marcelo has played less. We know the player he is and what he has done, but Ferland Mendy has been playing well recently. Marcelo is training well and we’ll see further down the line. With Isco, he’ll continue to be an important player. It’s true that he hasn’t been playing much either, but it’s because I’ve not given him the opportunity to show the player he is.”

A question was put to Zidane in the press conference about one of the Real Madrid youth teams, the Under-9s who thrashed their counterparts in SAD Villaverde’s youth team 31-0 at the weekend. This result has sparked a debate in Spain about the competitive imbalance in some levels of youth football and Zidane was asked if it’s a coach’s responsibility to tell his team to stop scoring after a certain point. He replied: “Sadly, a slightly ugly thing like this can happen, but it’s not the coach who has to tell his players not to attack more. It’s a matter for the federation. In youth basketball they stop matches after 50 points, so maybe there’s a need to go down that route.

Finally, Zidane was asked about the Gérard Houllier’s passing. On the French coach, he said: “It’s very sad news, we’ve lost a lot of people in football recently. I send my condolences to his family.”

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