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Zidane’s first press conference in three months: “This will be strange, but the Di Stéfano Stadium is still our home”

The coach spoke to the media for the first time since March 8th.

Real Madrid Training Session Photo by Antonio Villalba/Real Madrid via Getty Images

Zinedine Zidane held his first press conference on Saturday afternoon since the post-match press conference after Real Madrid’s defeat to Real Betis back on March 8th. The coach looked ahead to Sunday evening’s match against Eibar, the first for Los Blancos since the coronavirus pause.

Before taking questions via a videoconference, Zidane wanted to read out a statement on the coronavirus pandemic and the situation of the past three months: “I want to express my condolences to all those who’ve lost somebody during this crisis and I want to thank all the health workers who have helped us. It’s a difficult and strange moment.”

Real Madrid return two points behind Barcelona and Zidane is keen to try to claw that deficit back, while he is confident in his players’ ability to play every few days. He said: “We’re two points behind and we have 11 finals ahead. We’ll give our all to try to win this league title. Many of my players know what it’s like to play at major tournaments, such as World Cups or European Championships, with so many important games in a row. The important thing is the preparation. We prepared very well. We’re confident in what we’ve worked on and now we just have to show it in the match.”

This will be Zidane’s 200th game in charge of Real Madrid and he was asked if this will be the strangest one. “Yes,” he said. “It’ll be quite strange. But, once the match starts, focus will be on that and on winning the game. Others have had it worse during this time. We’re lucky to be back playing. The players are very happy and grateful to return to work. I’m confident that we’ve worked well physically. We’ve got a month and a half ahead and we’ll be at our best.”

There were several questions about the fact that Real Madrid will be playing without fans and also at a new stadium, at the Estadio Di Stéfano in the Valdebebas training complex. Zidane reminded the journalists that this is still a home stadium for Los Blancos. “The Di Stéfano is still our stadium, at the end of the day,” he said. “We’re used to the Bernabéu, but we’ll adapt. We’ve been able to train there. The dimensions of the pitch are the same and we’re prepared to play there. I don’t like to play without fans, but this is the situation. We respect what we’re told. We’ll miss our fans, but we’ll adapt and we’ll give our everything just as before.”

There has been a suggestion this week that supporters could return to the stadiums before the end of the 2019/20 season, which wouldn’t be possible at the Bernabéu since Real Madrid have already started construction work there. On that issue, Zidane said: “I would prefer for my players to play in front of fans. I don’t know what’ll happen. Right now, there’s no fans. Later, if they decide to change that, then we’ll see.”

Another big change will be the fact that coaches can now make five substitutions per match and have 12 players on the bench, instead of the usual seven substitutes in the matchday squad. It’s the latter that Zidane is most pleased about. The coach explained: “I like having all the players available on the bench. I have the chance to pick out of the 23 in the squad. That’s good news for me. I don’t think having five substitutions helps or hurts, but the more important thing is having all 23 players there available. [Whether all five substitutions are used] will depend on the match. There will be games where you make five substitutions and some where you make two. No player has ever gone through this, with so many days off. For me it’s good, but we’ll see in each game.”

Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio are among those 23, while Luka Jović is not and Zidane provided a brief injury update. “Hazard and Asensio are going to be available and they’ll be with us,” Zidane said. “That’s good news. The bad news, though, is with Jović, who hurt himself at home. It was quite a bad thing because he’ll be out for a while. I don’t know how long. We’ll have to wait to see if he can be back with us before the end of the season.”

Discussing how he spent the lockdown, Zidane lamented his skills in the kitchen. “Lots of football,” he said when asked how he spent the period of quarantine. “And a lot of time with family. We all had quite a bad time. Many lost loved ones. It affected everyone and me too. That’s the bad part, but now the good thing is the return towards normality. So, lots of football at home. I tried to cook too, but I’m a disaster! Better to watch football.”

Finally, Zidane was asked jokingly if he’d missed these press conferences, with this his first in 97 days. “It’s true, actually,” he said. “It’s part of my job to be with you all and to speak about football. I do like to speak about football. About controversy no, but about football yes.”