Real Madrid's Luka Modric 'happy' to be back after injury layoff
Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric says he is happy to be back playing but still needs more work to return to full fitness after joining up with Croatia for their upcoming international matches against Iceland and Northern Ireland.
Modric, 31, missed eight club games with a left knee problem first picked up against Espanyol in mid-September, which needed an operation that took place after he had played three further games but returned to action as a second-half substitute for Madrid in Sunday's 3-0 La Liga win at home to Leganes
Modric, who recently signed a new long-term contract with Madrid, received a warm welcome from the Bernabeu crowd on his return and told reporters in the mixed zone afterwards that he was grateful for the reception and had suffered no new issues with his knee.
"I feel happy to be back with the team," Modric said. "Now I must keep working and recover physically. I must thank the fans for the lovely welcome they gave me. That helps you to feel good on the pitch. The most important thing is I felt good, with no issues."
Modric entered the pitch in place of his Croatia colleague Mateo Kovacic, who had picked up an ankle problem and could now be a doubt for the week's two international fixtures.
"Kovacic picked up a little issue today, we hope it is nothing serious," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane told a postmatch news conference.
Zidane also praised the attitude of the 22-year-old, who has started 11 of Madrid's 17 games in all competitions so far this season, and scored his first goal of the campaign, a dramatic equaliser in last week's 3-3 Champions League draw at Legia Warsaw.
"[Kovacic] is playing phenomenally well," Zidane said, while adding that the youngster might play less when Modric and Casemiro return to full fitness.
"When they are all back, maybe he has less playing time. But that does not mean anything, it's important that he feels well, happy with what he is doing and trains well. I see him enjoying it when he gets to play, and accepting it when not."
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