Real Madrid’s Zidane on James Rodriguez stepping up: ‘He’s going to contribute a lot’

Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane believes out-of-favour playmaker James Rodriguez will acquit himself well when he steps into the spotlight with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale out this weekend.
Real Madrid's James Rodriguez, right, in action against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League on Wednesday. Gerard Julien / AFP / September 14, 2016
Real Madrid's James Rodriguez, right, in action against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League on Wednesday. Gerard Julien / AFP / September 14, 2016

Real Madrid will be without talisman Cristiano Ronaldo and record signing Gareth Bale for their trip to Espanyol on Sunday, but manager Zinedine Zidane expects out-of-favour James Rodriguez to fill in admirably.

Real Madrid will also be aiming to equal Barcelona’s record of 16 consecutive Primera Liga wins, but to do so they will need the likes of Rodriguez and the just-returned Karim Benzema to pick up the slack left by Ronaldo and Bale.

Ronaldo scored the equaliser in Real’s thrilling late turnaround to beat Sporting Lisbon 2-1 on Wednesday but has been ruled out with the flu, while Bale is still carrying a hip injury he sustained against Sporting.

Zidane said Ronaldo’s absence would give Colombian international Rodriguez a real chance to impress, and he backed Karim Benzema after a disappointing return to action from the Frenchman at midweek in the Champions League against Sporting, following a hip injury.

“I’ve said two or three times that James is training very well and he’s going to play, he’s important for the team and I think he’s really motivated,” Zidane told a news conference on Saturday ahead of the trip to Barcelona to face Espanyol.

“He wants to play like everyone else and he’s going to contribute a lot.”

“Benzema is fine,” added the coach.

“The other day was his first start for a while and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

Real equalled a club record of 15 consecutive wins set in 1960/61 last week against Osasuna and victory on Sunday would see Zidane match the 16 straight wins set by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in the 2010/11 season.

Real have won their last three league visits to Espanyol, Ronaldo scoring five goals in a 6-0 rout last season. But in this instance, Zidane said he would not take any risks and give the Portuguese superstar a chance to repeat the feat.

“Cristiano will not travel with us, he has a sore throat and we’re not going to risk him,” Zidane said.

“We have games every three days and we can’t take risks with such an important player. Bale received a strong knock to the hip on Wednesday and he’s not going to travel either.

“This is a group, we have important players so when a player has something wrong it’s better for someone else to come in and do well, we always have to think about the team.”

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Published: September 17, 2016 04:00 AM

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