Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said on Friday he had no A or B side and needed to call on every member of his squad to cope with a gruelling fixture list, as a debate about his team selections was played out in the Spanish media.
The question of whether Zidane’s periphery players perform better than his first-choice starting 11 resurfaced after a Los Blancos side with nine changes blitzed Deportivo La Coruna 6-2 on Wednesday.
The coach rested heavyweights Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and Keylor Navas, who played in last weekend’s 3-2 defeat against Barcelona, and was without Gareth Bale through injury and Sergio Ramos through suspension.
Not for the first time this season, Real’s squad players seized the opportunity, with James Rodriguez, Marco Asensio, Alvaro Morata and Isco emphatically taking up the mantle to keep their team on the heels of Barcelona in the title race.
Losing manager Pepe Mel said Real’s second string were harder to play against than their first-choice XI, while sports daily AS declared: “Plan B is a great plan”.
Arging that some clubs’ second-string players get no time on the pitch at all, Zidane told a news conference on Friday: “I have immense respect for my players and I have to choose who plays but I’m not unfair…
“Some people may think that in some games the same players always play and in other games another team plays and call that an A or B team, but it’s not like that for me.
Real host Valencia on Saturday looking to temporarily go three points ahead of the Catalans, who top the table due to their superior head-to-head record against Los Blancos but have played one game more.
Zidane also said players who performed well against Deportivo would hold no hard feelings against him should they find themselves on the bench against Valencia.
“I don’t just drop players, I speak with them and explain my thinking and we move forward together,” he added.
“…I understand this debate but now I’m the coach of Real Madrid, I have to decide, and I’m always thinking about what’s best for Real Madrid as a family.
“I know I have an extraordinary squad and everyone is committed …We all want to follow the same path.”
Bale is still suffering from a calf injury while Ramos returns from a one-game suspension for getting sent off against Barcelona.