Zidane praises Real Madrid's fringe players after Copa del Rey win
Zinedine Zidane praised the impact of his fringe players after a youthful Real Madrid opened 2018 with a 3-0 Copa del Rey win at 10-man Numancia on Thursday.
Gareth Bale and Dani Carvajal were the only regular starters included in Zidane's lineup, the Wales international making his first start since September after calf and thigh injuries.
Bale opened the scoring from the penalty spot after Lucas Vazquez drew a foul, the same player earning a second spot-kick that Isco converted to settle the tie before Borja Mayoral's late header added undeserved gloss to the scoreline.
But the result tells barely half the story, Inigo Perez having hitting the underside of the crossbar with a 45-yard lob after Numancia were reduced to 10 men by Pape Maly Diamanka's dismissal, while both of the penalties won by Vazquez were debatable calls.
Numancia could have also had a penalty of their own when Theo Hernandez appeared to foul Dani Nieto in the box, but Zidane - marking the second anniversary since his appointment - preferred to focus on the positives.
"This was not an easy place to come, they have been playing well," Zidane said in his post-match news conference. "They made it tough for us, but we got a good result.
"Many of these are players who do not play so often. And they did very well, against a team who did not give up. I am happy for the players who played a serious game and achieved something good.
"The tie is never over, we must play another serious game in the second leg. In the second half we had some problems, above all when they were down to 10. But in general I am happy."
Bale managed to play an hour before being withdrawn and Zidane indicated he will be patient with the winger as he builds up to full fitness in another injury-hit campaign.
"It was important to see how he felt," said Zidane, who is yet to win the Copa del Rey.
"In the end he played an hour, without problems, feeling physically well. So we will continue like this. We want him to play regularly now."
1 - Borja Mayoral scores a goal every 106 minutes this season (five overall), the best goal/minute ratio of any Real Madrid player (all competitions). Updated. pic.twitter.com/rmOYUWYWAt— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 4, 2018
Mayoral scored his third Copa del Rey goal of the season and the 20-year-old has the best goal ratio of any Madrid player this season, averaging a goal every 106 minutes in all competitions.
But Zidane indicated the forward will have to wait for more chances to impress despite first-choice striker Karim Benzema being on the sidelines with a hamstring injury sustained in last month's 3-0 El Clasico humiliation at the hands of rivals Barcelona.
"Every time I can, he will play," Zidane added. "But there are many players in this squad who do not get so many minutes. They must be patient."