Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane hailed his team’s effort after four of his players ended with cramps in a 3-1 win over Levante on Wednesday.
Zidane made four enforced changes with a host of first team regulars injured and suspended from the side that lost 1-0 at home to Atletico Madrid on Saturday to realistically end Real’s La Liga title hopes.
However, 18-year-old Borja Mayoral shone on his first La Liga start as did fellow youngsters Lucas Vazquez and Casemiro.
All three suffered from cramp towards the end, whilst Toni Kroos was visibly winded at full-time and Zidane praised the application of his players after questioning their mental strength and attitude after the Atletico defeat.
“It is what we have to do. We all have to run and be committed,” said Zidane.
“I expected the four or five players that haven’t played a lot to end the game tired. That is normal, but I come away happy with the performance of the whole team.
“When you don’t play a lot it is difficult, but it didn’t show today.”
In the absence of Sergio Ramos, Pepe returned as captain in the Madrid defence and he insisted the players needed no reminding from Zidane they had let the club’s fans down by falling 12 points behind Barcelona with defeat against Atletico on Saturday.
“We didn’t need the boss to ask for more intensity, the fans demand it of us,” the Portuguese international told Canal Plus.
“Today the team showed we are a unit that can fight. We came here under a lot of pressure.”
The fallout from the derby defeat was added to by Cristiano Ronaldo’s statement that Real would be top of the league if the rest of the team matched his standards.
However, Pepe defended his international teammate and insisted the Madrid dressing room is united.
“That is in the past. We have spoken and as the coach said we are all in the same boat,” added Pepe.
“We need to work hard and sweat for the shirt in every game because there are many people around the world who suffer when we lose.”