Cristiano Ronaldo ready for Real Madrid return - Zinedine Zidane
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says Cristiano Ronaldo is "very focused" on getting back to what he does best by playing in Wednesday's Champions League Group H opener at home to Apoel Nicosia.
The Portugal captain's only game for Madrid since being handed a five-game ban for pushing a referee during the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup was the 2-1 Bernabeu Trophy friendly win over Fiorentina, although he also played two World Cup 2018 qualifiers for his country.
At the news conference ahead of Wednesday's clash with Apoel, Zidane said that Ronaldo was physically and mentally raring to go despite his lack of action.
"Cristiano is very good, very focused on what he has to do," Zidane said. "He is very happy to be back playing, it is what he likes, what he wants to do more than anything else. We are happy to have him back, physically he is very fit, and mentally with all that has happened, all the talk, he is very good."
Zidane did not answer directly when asked if Madrid's recent La Liga draws with Levante and Valencia had shown that the team was still "dependent" on their 32-year-old star.
"Everyone knows who Cristiano is," he said. "I always prefer to have him with us, nothing more. We cannot talk about dependency, what I want is for all the players to be available for the coach. Cristiano does not bring just goals, he is an important member of the squad. He is a leader, who always wants to win, and transmits that to all the others. Every time he is with us, me as coach and the players as well, we are all happy."
With Karim Benzema out for at least a month with a hamstring injury, Ronaldo is likely to feature at centre-forward against Apoel. Zidane said that Madrid were now a No. 9 light after a summer in which they sold Alvaro Morata to Chelsea, and were heavily linked with Kylian Mbappe only for the Monaco striker to instead join Paris Saint-Germain.
"You can say we lack a No. 9, and maybe we do," he said. "We would have liked Morata to stay, but he wanted to play more, to leave, and we respected that. In the end we were not able to bring in another player. We must not go over it too much, as I believe a lot in [youngster Borja] Mayoral. Besides Karim, we have Gareth [Bale] and Cristiano. Maybe you say they play on the wings, but we will make do with what we have, and we will do well for sure."
Zidane admitted his side felt pressure as favourites aiming to be the first team to win three consecutive European Cups since the 1970s but his side were used to knowing they had to win each and every game.
"We are champions but everything is beginning from zero again," he said. "We are excited about starting again but we know it will be difficult. Every game, even a friendly, there is pressure here. But we are used to that. Madrid are always favourites, but we know what we must do to above all start the competition well. At the moment I am only thinking of tomorrow, against an opponent who have experience and have the chance to play their own good game."
In team news, centre-back Raphael Varane is available again following an adductor muscle issue, while emerging star Marco Asensio is a doubt with his own new injury problem.
"Rafa [Varane] is fine now, fully recovered, he will be with us," Zidane said. "Marco has a bit of a problem, and is touch and go."
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