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France’s Zidane seeks to pull Real Madrid back into line

Zinedin Zidane has led Real Madrid to five trophies in 2017 and eight since he took over in January 2016. Reuters/Juan Medina

Real Madrid coach Zinedane Zidane held a longer-than-usual pep talk with players on the eve of the team’s match with Numancia on Wednesday, following a series if disappointing performances.

After an extended talk with players before training on Tuesday, Zidane told reporters it was his responsibility to keep the team motivated despite recent struggles.

But the coach also defended his players and dismissed talk of a crisis within the reigning Spanish and European champions.

“My message to the players is to try and find solutions,” said the former midfielder on the French national team.

“It’s not because they had three or four bad matches or three or four tough situations that I’m going to desert them. I’m not like that. I stand by what I am, I defend it tooth and nail and that’s the way it will be to the end.”

Copa del Rey quarterfinals

While Wednesday’s match against second division Numancia, over whom they hold a 3-0 lead, should be a chance to stroll into quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, which they last won in 2014, Madrid’s recent lacklustre performances have raised eyebrows.

First, Real Madrid ended 2017 with a 3-0 defeat at home to eternal rivals Barcelona in the Clasico.

Then, the defending La Liga champions drew 2-2 at Celto Vigo on Sunday, leaving them in fourth position and 16 points behind Barcelona near the halfway point of the Spanish league competition.

“The plan is to work, work, work. To work harder than we have up to now. Because it’s not enough,” said Zidane. “This team has won many, many times, so motivation is very important. We have to find a way to keep the troops motivated.”

French coach of the year

If Madrid ended the year badly, Zidane was named French coach of the year on Tuesday by the magazine French Football for leading the club to five trophies over 12 months, including a Liga and Champions League double.

But, in response, he looked ahead to this year’s European competition.

“I want to show that I can also be a good coach in tough circumstances,” Zidane told the magazine in an article published Tuesday.

And after Tuesday’s long pep talk, Zidane also sought to focus attention on the team’s present and near future, namely its opening Champions League match against Paris Saint-Germain next month.

“We can’t get to the Champions League on 14 February and say ‘Hooray, we made it’,” he said.

“We have to get ready for it now.”