Zinedine Zidane confirms clear-the-air talks with Real Madrid squad
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has confirmed a clear-the-air meeting took place after training on Tuesday but denied that the European champions are in crisis or that major changes were needed.
With his side 16 points behind runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona, Zidane is now facing the first real criticism of his two-year reign, with local media also reporting that there are disagreements with club president Florentino Perez over the need to strengthen the squad this month.
Tuesday's news conference at Valdebebas, to preview Wednesday's Copa del Rey round-of-16 second leg at home to Numancia, was delayed by over 90 minutes while Zidane and his players talked about the team's situation.
Zidane then faced the media in defiant mood, refusing to give details of what had been said, but maintaining that the answer to the team's current problems was to stick together and work even harder.
"I am not going to say what we talked about," Zidane said. "These are talks that can happen in the team.
"You can analyse it as you like, say it is a 'crisis moment,' but we are here to look for solutions, to talk, and try to do things better. The chat was a bit longer than others, but this happens when we think it necessary, to get something out of it. When things are not going as we want, the answer is hard work.
"That is what I believe in, and the players think the same. We will work harder than ever now, in all senses. It is not about physical or mental, it is a bit of everything, and continuing stronger. There is nothing else to do but that."
Some local pundits have called for a freshening up of a team that won seven trophies in 2017, including the La Liga and Champions League double, but has looked mentally and physically exhausted through recent months.
However, Zidane -- who has said he is "not afraid" of the current challenges -- rejected the idea he should drop long-time regulars including Toni Kroos, Marcelo and even the club's record goal scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo.
"When things go wrong, I am not someone to throw two or three players into the s---," he said. "We are all in the same boat, all responsible, and first of all me as coach. I believe in my squad. I will not change for two or three bad results.
"When things get a bit ugly, it is when we need more from everyone, as we do at the moment. We had two spectacular years and people should not forget that. I know the next game is the most important. We will not live in the past, but will not throw away what has been done either."
Zidane again insisted he did not want any "quick-fixes" in the January transfer window, and that any changes to be made -- including with the coach -- should be considered at the end of the season.
"To be very clear I do not want any [new players]," he said. "We began the season with a squad [and] I believe in these players. We still have everything in front of us. We will see what happens at the end of the season. Things can be analysed then, and if a change is needed, then it will happen.
"I believe in what we are doing, and my players. I will not throw in the towel due to some bad months. What annoys me more is what you [media] say that I will go to the president. People who say that do not know me. Real Madrid is above me, above everybody. People might think I am not the right person, maybe so, but I believe in what I do. I will keep doing it until I am out, nothing more. "
There was little time to discuss Wednesday's game, in which Zidane is likely to again rest most of his senior players including Ronaldo given their 3-0 advantage from the first leg. Sergio Ramos (calf) and Karim Benzema (hamstring) remain sidelined through injury.
Luka Modric was not at training Tuesday morning, with El Mundo reporting he was settling a problem with the local tax authority.
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