Real Madrid will be without the services of Gareth Bale and Pepe as Zinedine Zidane looks to earn three crucial points against Espanyol, with the race for the La Liga title heating up in Spain. Speaking ahead of the match, the French manager also backed Cristiano Ronaldo while asking the Portuguese superstar to ‘work a little more’.

Gareth Bale picked up a calf injury and is expected to be back in time for Real Madrid’s Champions League clash against AS Roma.

Bale to return to the group next week

As reported by AS, Zidane remained tight-lipped regarding Bale’s replacement in the starting eleven as he backed the Welshman to return to the group next week.

“We’ll see tomorrow (regarding James replacing Bale). Bale’s worked well throughout the week and the idea is that he’ll return to the group next week.”

Ronaldo needs to work more

Zidane played down suggestions regarding Ronaldo’s drop in form as he claimed that the Portuguese hadn’t ‘lost anything’, including his goal scoring capability. However, the Frenchman did ask the former Manchester United No 7 to ‘work a little more’.

“He hasn’t lost his goal scoring capability, he hasn’t lost anything. He’s fine and he is working well just like the others; he only needs to work a little more.”

Ronaldo needs to work a 'little more'.

Ronaldo needs to work a ‘little more’.

Zinedine Zidane has been critical of the squad’s fitness level and seems to have outlined a plan to improve their physical fitness in the weeks to come. The Frenchman also insisted on the importance of starting the game ‘strongly’ as he deflected questions regarding Real Madrid’s interest in signing Neymar from Barcelona.

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