Ronaldo committed, insist Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo is fully committed to Real Madrid and will return from his eye injury in Saturday evening's Primera Division clash with Athletic Bilbao, according to Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka.
Papers in Madrid and Portugal had led Friday morning with stories of the Portuguese attacker's recent "sadness" returning and he was again considering leaving Madrid after a week in which he felt he had not received enough backing from his club following injury against Levante or when being beaten to the LFP player of the year award by nemesis Lionel Messi.
Karanka however was quick to dismiss a reporter's question at Friday evening's pre-game press briefing regarding Ronaldo's current state of mind.
"Some questions do not even deserve an answer," Karanka said. "Anyone who knows Cristiano knows (the injury) must have been very bad for him to leave the pitch. (On Saturday) he will again show how he gives everything for this team."
The former Madrid defender also gave short shrift to a suggestion his boss was unhappy to have lost out to former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola in the LFP's manager of the year award, which is chosen by La Liga's other managers.
"We have spoken about that," Karanka said. "(Mourinho) is happy not to have won that trophy."
Back on the football, Ronaldo could be joined in Madrid's starting XI by Karim Benzema and Sami Khedira, after both returned to training this week following their successful recovery from thigh injuries. Playmaker Mesut Ozil should also be available after recovering from the ankle knock which saw him miss Germany's midweek friendly in Holland.
Meanwhile, Marcelo Bielsa's side travel south missing important suspended midfield pair Ander Herrera and Oscar de Marcos. Totemic striker Fernando Llorente is again expected to be on the bench.
Karanka, who played for the Basque club for a total of eight seasons either side of his spell at the Bernabeu, said that whatever team Athletic put out would pose a test for Mourinho's men.
"Athletic are always a difficult opponent and a historic team in La Liga," he said. "For all the absences they have, they will surely be a competitive team right until the end of the game."
The final stages of matches is where Madrid are again impressing this season, as shown last week against Levante when youngster Alvaro Morata sprung from the bench to head an 84th minute winner.
Karanka insisted that there was no truth to claims that the reason Madrid had fallen eight points behind Barcelona in the table was that the players had yet to reach their physical peak this season.
"The team is in very good physical shape, they are competing to the last minute in games, and giving their all," he said. "If we win games at the end, it is because we are in good physical condition, as always."
The return of Khedira, Benzema and Ozil could see both Michael Essien and Luka Modric on the bench as Mourinho gives his favoured XI a run-out ahead of Wednesday's Champions League Group D trip to Manchester City.
Karanka believes that the recent arrivals had nevertheless added to Madrid's power. "The team keeps making progress," he said. "The new players who have arrived have brought something. (Essien) has played in different positions and each time he has played very well. Now he needs to rest a little."