Fragile Bale deepens Zidane's first crisis at Real Madrid
With Gareth Bale sidelined again, we look at the key fixtures the Wales international is expected to miss for Real Madrid.
Another injury to key forward Gareth Bale was the last thing Zinedine Zidane needed as the Frenchman, having previously led a charmed life at the Santiago Bernabeu, battles to overcome the first real crisis of his Real Madrid coaching career.
Madrid are eight points off the ferocious pace set by Barcelona in LaLiga and suffered a damaging 3-1 loss to Tottenham in their previous Champions League outing.
Zidane will aim to get the Spanish and European champions back on track when they make the short trip to face neighbours Atletico Madrid next weekend.
However, the first derby at the Wanda Metropolitano will be the latest key fixture Los Blancos enter without the services of star forward Bale.
The Wales international was back in training following his latest calf injury but has now suffered a groin strain that could keep him sidelined for up to a month.
Here, we look some of the key games Bale - who last featured in a goalscoring appearance at Borussia Dortmund at the end of September – is set to miss and how that might impact on Madrid's defence of their titles at home and abroad.
November 18 - Atletico Madrid (A)
Madrid got back to winning ways against Las Palmas in their previous LaLiga outing after defeat to Spurs followed a shock reverse at Girona. They lie third, level on points with city rivals Atleti, who have won six and drawn five in a similarly uneven start. Bale has only tasted victory in four of his 15 encounters with Atleti, although he did score a pivotal extra-time goal in the 2014 Champions League final.
November 21 – APOEL (A)
Zidane's men must get back to winning ways in Europe's top competition, with Tottenham now favourites to pip them to top spot in Group H. APOEL are winless in the competition, with Bale completing 82 minutes in a 3-0 victory when they visited the Santiago Bernabeu in September. But the Cypriot side held Dortmund to back-to-back draws and appear to have warmed to playing for pride.
December 6 - Borussia Dortmund (H)
Dortmund have surprisingly struggled in the Champions League this season. Defeats to Tottenham and Madrid left them off the pace, and they failed to make up ground when successive games against APOEL only resulted in them picking up two points. Still, while they look unlikely to make it to the knockout stages, Peter Bosz's squad will still have a bearing on deciding who tops the table. The Bundesliga club managed a 2-2 result on their last trip to the Bernabeu, in December 2016.
December 9 – Sevilla (H)
While Madrid have failed to win any of their last three trips to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Zidane's squad have had no such problems when facing the same opponents on home soil. Bale was not involved in the 4-1 triumph last season but did score his side's third goal in a 4-0 rout in March 2016, in the process overtaking Gary Lineker to become the all-time leading British scorer in the history of LaLiga.
If the initial recovery time is correct, Bale should be back in action for the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Madrid's first match in the tournament takes place on December 13, although they do not yet know the identity of their opponents.December 23 - Barcelona (H)
Then there is the small matter of Barca. The first Clasico in LaLiga this season takes place two days before Christmas Day in Madrid. A fit Bale would be a welcome early Christmas present for Zidane in what looks set to be a key fixture in the battle for the title.