Cristiano Ronaldo to miss Real Madrid trip Rayo, a doubt for Manchester City
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says that Cristiano Ronaldo would like to play in Saturday afternoon's La Liga game at neighbours Rayo Vallecano, but the Portugal captain must miss the game due to a muscle problem and is now a doubt to face Manchester City.
Ronaldo picked up the thigh issue late in Wednesday's 3-0 La Liga win over Villarreal, with the attacker's availability for next Tuesday's Champions League semifinal first leg at City now uncertain.
After tests carried out on both Thursday and Friday in the Spanish capital, Madrid said that the 31-year-old had a strain in his right thigh muscle without giving any indication when he might be ready to return to action.
The Blancos coach told a news conference that the injury was being monitored from day to day, but even with Madrid chasing the Liga title and Ronaldo going for the European Golden Shoe top scorer award he was definitely not going to be in the match squad for Saturday's game.
"Tomorrow [Ronaldo] will not play," Zidane said. "We did the scans and he has nothing serious, but he cannot play tomorrow. Then we will see day to day. Tomorrow he will stay at home. Then we will see about Tuesday."
Zidane admitted after Wednesday's game that sometimes he would like to rest Ronaldo to lessen any risk of injury, but it was difficult as he always wants to play every game.
Club captain Sergio Ramos has also suggested he has spoken to his teammate about managing his playing time better.
Asked if Ronaldo would play were Saturday's game a cup final, Zidane said he did not think so, although the player himself would probably be in favour of forcing the issue.
"I don't believe so -- that would be a big risk," he said. "He knows that tomorrow he cannot play, although he wants to. He had something in the last game, and for us we are thinking about Tuesday."
Pressed on whether it was a problem for a coach to be unable to persuade a key player to rest sometimes, Zidane said he preferred to look to the positives of a star name who always wanted to contribute something for the team.
"Maybe he can rest sometimes, but it is something good, a player who always wants to play, to help the team, always wants more and more," he said. "For a coach that is great. Inside the bad can be many good things. He has been in good shape. [The injury] was an isolated incident, in the last minute, which can happen. But I see him fine, playing all the games. He has always done that. For a coach it is good to have someone like that. I think of the positive side -- what he brings to the team."
With four games left to play in La Liga, Madrid sit in third position just one point behind joint-leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who are both in action later on Saturday, at home to Sporting Gijon and Malaga respectively.
Holding midfielder Casemiro is suspended for the short trip to the Estadio Vallecas after picking up a fifth yellow card of the season midweek. Right-back Dani Carvajal remains out with an ankle issue, but Gareth Bale has recovered from the muscle problem which saw him miss the Villarreal game.
"Gareth is good, better, training well, totally recovered," Zidane said. "The idea is that tomorrow he is available for the team. We will see [if he starts]."
Rayo have lost all nine meetings with Madrid since being promoted in 2011, and were beaten 10-2 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu last December, after going ahead early but then seeing two players sent off. After drawing 1-1 at Malaga on Wednesday, Paco Jemez's side sit in 16th position, just three points above the drop zone.
"It's a very difficult game, small ground, a team who know how to play," Zidane said. "Tomorrow will be another very complicated game for us. Above all at the start of the game. We are focused, we feel good, are in good form and we must keep that going. Tomorrow is three important points, and we will work hard and battle."
Asked about Ramos having said on Thursday that he felt that Zidane should remain as Madrid coach whether the team win anything or not this season, the former Galactico player said that everyone around the Bernabeu knew that a coach's future depended only on results.
"What I can say is thanks -- I played with Sergio and we have a very good relationship then and now," he said. "He is our captain. He knows the club very well, as I do. But then we both know that the team playing well and winning games is all that matters at this club. Well, not everything, but it is a very important part."
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