Madrid (AFP) – Zinedine Zidane urged Real Madrid’s notoriously demanding fans to lay off Cristiano Ronaldo as the Real coach faces up to a mounting injury crisis on top of a congested fixture list.
Ronaldo was whistled as his sluggish start to 2017 continued with a wasteful display in front of goal as Madrid edged past Malaga 2-1 on Saturday thanks to two goals from captain Sergio Ramos.
Victory — after back-to-back defeats to end a 40-game unbeaten run — ensured Real move four points clear at the top of La Liga and seal the title of winter champions for the first half of the season.
Yet there was still no pleasing some fans at the Santiago Bernabeu and Zidane afterwards asked the most disgruntled to have patience with Ronaldo.
“Sometimes when you have difficulties you need the fans’ help and to be behind you,” said Zidane.
“I am not going to criticise the fans because they pay their money. But with so many games and a lot of injuries, the players need to feel that love sometimes. The coach does too.”
Ronaldo hit the post and was denied three times by Malaga goalkeeper Carlos Kameni as the Portuguese’s run of scoring just once in open play in La Liga since November continued.
And there were also jeers for Ronaldo’s strike partner Karim Benzema when he was replaced by Alvaro Morata with eight minutes remaining.
“Have patience,” pleaded Zidane.
“In the past few games they haven’t found the net, but that doesn’t worry me. What worries me are the injuries.”
Marcelo and Luka Modric both limped off, but it is the former’s thigh problem which most worries Zidane with his options at full-back now severely depleted.
First-choice right-back Dani Carvajal has been ruled out for a month, whilst his deputy, Danilo, was not fit to play according to Zidane despite being named on the bench.
The versatile Nacho switched from right-back to left-back after Marcelo was withdrawn with Lucas Vazquez, normally a winger, stepping back to fill in at right-back.
“We have a lot of games and in the end my mood is aggravated by the injuries,” said Zidane. “We have another important game on Wednesday.
“At the end of the game we are happy because we have taken the three points, but 2-1 was tight for the chances that we had.
“Today we struggled to take our chances and when the opponents had theirs they caused problems.