Zidane turns his mind to La Liga chase
MADRID (Reuters) - An elated but pragmatic Zinedine Zidane has quickly turned his mind from the Champions League victory against AS Roma to Real Madrid’s seemingly impossible task to catch Barcelona in La Liga.
Real are getting better under Zidane, unbeaten in seven matches in all competitions after Wednesday’s 2-0 win in the first leg of their last-16 tie in Rome, thanks to a brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo.
But only a couple of hours earlier, Barcelona had left Real and Atletico Madrid with a tough task to overhaul them in the league race when they secured a six-point cushion with a 3-1 win at Sporting Gijon.
With 14 matches to go for all the teams in La Liga, Barcelona have 60 points to Atletico’s 54 and Real’s 53 and are favourites to win a sixth title in eight seasons.
“We are seven points behind and it will be difficult, but we are giving it everything and we are all happy,” Zidane was quoted as saying on the Real website (www.realmadrid.com).
“We are going to rest well and think about the Malaga game. On Sunday we will try to do everything to get what we need to get,” he said in Rome.
Barcelona travel to Las Palmas on Saturday (1500 GMT). Real visit Malaga (1500 GMT) and Atletico are at home to fourth-placed Villarreal (1930 GMT) on Sunday.
Zidane, who has united the Real dressing room, extolled the virtues of team effort after they had a less than happy first half of the season under the sacked Rafa Benitez.
“For me, the most important thing is the group, although today, like on many occasions, Cristiano Ronaldo made the difference,” he said.
“When we win, we all win and that is important. We have to keep going because we are at the start of all of this.”
No team has squandered a six-point lead in La Liga with 14 matches to go in the 20 Ligas since the introduction of three points for a win in 1995/6, according to statistics published by the sports daily Mundo Deportivo.
Barcelona have an added advantage should either of their rivals close the points gap since the deciding factor in that case is the teams’ head-to-head record.
Barca have beaten Atletico 2-1 both at home and away in their two Liga encounters and they crushed Real 4-0 at the Bernabeu with the return at the Nou Camp to come in April.
(Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Andrew Heavens)