Zinedine Zidane feels his Real Madrid players deserve more respect as he is "tired" of their victories being attributed to refereeing decisions.

Madrid celebrated a seventh straight win on Sunday as they prevailed 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao, moving seven points clear of rivals Barcelona at the top of LaLiga.

However, their goal came courtesy of a Sergio Ramos penalty, awarded only after a VAR review highlighted Dani Garcia's trip on Marcelo.

Iker Muniain revealed his frustration at the call after the match, echoing comments from Barca's Gerard Pique, who suggested the officials were making it difficult to stop Madrid winning the title.

Zidane bristled at the accusations, though, telling a news conference: "I am tired of being told that we won because of the referees.

"This is not going to change. But the players deserve respect. Nothing is going to take away from our goal."

The head coach accepted Madrid were not at their best at San Mames, yet he pointed to a tough schedule which saw the leaders in action against Getafe as recently as Thursday.

"Our strength is what I like the most. We are showing our strength and our balance when we lose the ball," Zidane said. "We are doing very well.

"We have lacked brilliance in attack and we can improve, but most important is our defensive strength.

"[The problems in attack are due to] a little bit of everything. It can be something physical, too. We play every three days.

"But I don't think it is our own thing; I think it is something for all the teams. There is a lot of difference between the beginning and the end."

Talk is turning towards when Madrid might clinch the title, with just four games to play and Barca struggling for form.

But Zidane is not getting ahead of himself, adding: "Until it is mathematically won, we cannot relax and think about the title.

"We have shown our strength and our solidity, but I am not going to talk about it, even if you ask me every day, because I already have a lot of experience in my career, also as a player, and all the games are difficult.

"What I can say is that winning seven games out of seven is impressive."

Athletic Bilbao captain Iker Muniain became the latest player to question refereeing decisions involving Real Madrid after Sergio Ramos scored a decisive penalty at San Mames.

Madrid were made to work hard for a 1-0 victory on Sunday - their seventh win in a row - as Zinedine Zidane's men moved seven points clear at the top of the LaLiga table.

But Athletic were unhappy with the award of the spot-kick from which Ramos clinched the points, with Dani Garcia's trip on Marcelo spotted only after a VAR review.

Muniain was particularly frustrated as there was then no similar call made at the other end of the pitch when Ramos appeared to step on Raul Garcia's foot off the ball.

He said: "Raul Garcia has been stamped on and they haven't even reviewed it. That's the difference.

"We've seen the theme in these weeks since the restart - depending on which teams it is, some decisions are given.

"Everyone can draw their own conclusions."

Barcelona stalwart Gerard Pique has previously suggested it would be difficult to stop Madrid winning the title because decisions too often go their way.

Those claims prompted Ramos to respond: "People shouldn't be imagining things!"

Sergio Ramos revealed he enjoys the responsibility of taking crucial penalties for Real Madrid, although he claimed he would be playing tennis if he was looking for individual recognition.

For the second time in four days, Ramos grabbed the only goal from 12 yards for Madrid, this time to secure a 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Sunday.

A seventh straight victory moved the LaLiga leaders seven points clear, at least until Barcelona take on Villarreal later in the day.

Ramos is focused on ensuring Madrid keep winning, having been flawless since the season's restart – a period in which the captain has now scored five times, including from the spot against Getafe on Thursday.

"All I think about is the three points," he said. "But those moments of doubt [when taking penalties], that's when I feel most comfortable.

"I just wanted to take that responsibility. What matters most is the overall result. The only thing that matters is that it helps the team win."

On his personal exploits, Ramos added: "The individual recognition is second for me.

"What matters is that the team get the objectives we want and manage to get the three points in every game we play. Luckily, for the moment, we are getting those results.

"I would have probably played tennis if I were more interested in individual recognition. This is a very beautiful sport, a team sport, and it's very nice to win as a team."

Having also overcome Getafe this week and with relatively kinder fixtures to come, Ramos acknowledged the magnitude of Madrid's latest victory.

"It was very important for us. We knew today was going to be one of the most important games of those that are left for us," he said. "It's a very difficult game always, travelling away to Bilbao.

"We just organised it like that: we had 11 finals left coming back from lockdown and we just had to go game by game, getting the three points.

"I believe today, again, the team proved that against a team like this, you always have to be at it. We're very happy with the three points. That was our objective.

"It's three very important points to put more pressure on Barcelona, who play later today.

"We just want that league title. From the first minute, you could see how we wanted to go for that game and get the result today.

"We knew we weren't going to win 3-0 or 4-0 today – it was going to be a very tough game – but it was important."

Sergio Ramos was Real Madrid's penalty hero for the second time in four days as a 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao sent the LaLiga leaders seven points clear.

Zinedine Zidane's men have been flawless since the season's restart to claim control of the title rice, but they were given a stern test by Getafe on Thursday and again had their work cut out for a time on Sunday.

Yet as against Getafe, Ramos stepped up to net a second-half penalty and secure all three points in Bilbao, with his latest decisive goal coming after Dani Garcia tripped Marcelo in the area to prompt a VAR review.

A seventh straight victory ensured Madrid made the most of playing before rivals Barcelona, who will kick-off at Villarreal later in the day knowing they have an even more significant gap to make up.

Madrid recalled Marco Asensio for his first start of the season in a move which almost brought immediate reward.

The fit-again forward drew a low save from a fourth-minute free-kick, with Karim Benzema then unable to direct his header goalwards when Dani Carvajal squared the rebound.

That was about the extent of Athletic goalkeeper Unai Simon's involvement before half-time, while Thibaut Courtois repelled Raul Garcia's powerful header at the other end.

Simon might have had a far greater role to play, though, as both Rodrygo and Benzema squandered huge headed opportunities from searching Asensio centres, each missing the target completely.

The second period appeared set to play out in similarly frustrating fashion for Madrid until Marcelo went down in the area and a penalty was eventually awarded, with Ramos coolly tucking his finish inside the left-hand post in the 73rd minute.

Simon saved smartly with his legs from Benzema in the closing stages, but the one Ramos goal proved enough for Madrid again.

Zinedine Zidane insists Real Madrid are not prematurely celebrating despite taking significant steps towards LaLiga glory in recent weeks.

Barcelona have drawn three of their past four matches, with Madrid winning all of their games across the same period to open up a four-point advantage at the summit.

The Clasico rivals each have 15 points to play for, meaning Barca require a huge swing in the remaining matches, with their derby at home to Espanyol and Madrid's trip to Athletic Bilbao next on the agenda.

Los Blancos last won the title in 2016-17, during Zidane's previous spell in charge, and the head coach is taking nothing for granted.

"The players know that it is a complicated, difficult, long competition, and that those who did it before show that they want to go for everything," he said.

"There is no euphoria here because we have not won anything.

"There is work and commitment to do it well and try to win matches."

Sergio Ramos was Madrid's match-winner against Getafe last time out and he is set to be joined at centre-back by Eder Militao at San Mames.

Raphael Varane was struck in the face by the ball during Thursday's match and was substituted, with the France international suffering from neck pain and unable to recover in time for a place in this weekend's squad.

"He has just arrived, he is working to reach the level of Rafa and Sergio," Zidane said of the 22-year-old former Porto defender Militao.

"Tomorrow he will have to play and I am happy for Mili because he is a player for the present and the future."

Seven of Militao's 12 LaLiga appearances so far this season have been starts, while his fellow Brazilian Rodrygo has only made Zidane's first XI once since the restart and last scored in October.

Nevertheless, the teenage forward produced a lively cameo last time out, asking questions of Getafe before Ramos' 79th-minute penalty.

"He is a player who is changing little by little, working hard," Zidane added.

"He is a charming boy, he is well, and in the end we will take advantage of his qualities."

Eden Hazard will sit out Real Madrid's LaLiga match with Athletic Bilbao as he is not fully fit, head coach Zinedine Zidane said on Saturday. 

The Belgium international sustained a heavy knock in the 1-0 win over Espanyol and missed the victory against Getafe on Thursday. 

Madrid could stretch their lead over Barcelona at the top of LaLiga to seven points if they win at Athletic on Sunday before the Catalans face Villarreal, but Zidane is not prepared to take any unnecessary risks with Hazard that could jeopardise his chances of finishing the season. 

"Eden's having a hard time these days and we don't want to risk anything, and he's the first [to agree]," Zidane said. "Hopefully, it's a small thing and we can see him again before the end of the league [season]. 

"He's been away for three or four days and I hope he'll get over it quickly. It's day to day; we don't know anything more than it's a strong blow. There are those who know, the doctors and the medics... they are very competent people. It was a blow against Espanyol and it's a matter of days." 

Hazard's first season at Madrid since a €100million move from Chelsea has been blighted by injuries, with the 29-year-old having only started 13 league games in 2019-20. 

"The Hazard thing is the sort of thing we don't want to happen, that's the worst thing for me," Zidane said. "It's not just me, there's a lot of people here to help the player. 

"For Eden, it's his first year and he wants to help the team. And when he can't do that, he's not happy. 

"I don't think he's afraid [of injuries]; what he wants is to be good enough to play. If he doesn't look 100 per cent, it's a problem for him and for everyone, because we love him to the max. 

"What I hope is that we'll soon get out of it." 

Barcelona coach Quique Setien admitted Arthur could be affected by rumours linking him with a move to Juventus.

Sky Sports reported on Tuesday that Juve had agreed an €80million deal with Barca, but must still convince the midfielder to join.

Arthur was substituted early in the second half as Barcelona edged Athletic Bilbao 1-0 in LaLiga.

Setien said the speculation surrounding the midfielder's future could be impacting the Brazil international's performances.

"If this is the case I'm sure it's affecting him, yes," he told a news conference.

"I'm very happy with what he's doing, he's an important player for us and we'll try to get the best out of him.

"Given how things are we need all of our players and we'll try and isolate ourselves from this situation and the media who are reporting on and talking about these rumours.

"We need him to be focused. It's true it is a difficult situation but we have to overcome it somehow."

Arthur has made 27 appearances this season for Barcelona, who moved three points clear of rivals Real Madrid atop the table.

Ivan Rakitic said he was "annoyed" it took him so long to open his goalscoring account this season after helping Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday.

The midfielder's 71st-minute winner helped Barca return to the top of the LaLiga table, sitting three points clear of rivals Real Madrid.

It was Rakitic's first goal of the campaign and the Croatian admitted to being frustrated by that record.

"We struggled a lot to get into the game, it wasn't easy, but I was very happy to score my first goal of the season," he said, via Marca.

"I want to dedicate my goal to my wife and my daughters who have put up with me so much in the last few months.

"It's very strange that I've taken so long to score. I'm annoyed with myself, although I'm happy to have helped the team."

Barcelona have collected 10 points from four games since returning from the coronavirus-enforced break, and they are yet to concede a goal.

Rakitic acknowledged his side, who visit Celta Vigo on Saturday, had again been pushed.

"It's very difficult to win LaLiga, that's why we say it's the best league in the world," he said.

"There are very even and tough games."

Quique Setien praised Ivan Rakitic after the midfielder scored the winner in Barcelona's 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday. 

Rakitic netted in the 71st minute to lift Barca back to the top of the table, three points clear of rivals Real Madrid. 

The Croatian's future has been talked about in recent months but Barcelona coach Setien hailed his impact after the midfielder came off the bench in the second half. 

"He came in in the second half for the Busi [Sergio Busquets] card. He has done it frankly well," he told Movistar. 

"He understands football very well. He has placed himself well, has stolen balls and has joined a definitive action. 

"I am very happy for him." 

Since returning from the coronavirus-enforced break, Barca have collected 10 points from four games and are yet to concede a goal. 

Setien was happier with his side's second-half display, praising substitutes Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig for their performances. 

"In the first half we were not precise with the ball. We had losses, it was difficult for us to recover the ball after loss," he said. 

"I have seen the second half calmer. The entrance of Ansu and Riqui has given us dynamism … they have given us a longer possession. 

"I am happy with the second half. And the first half we can improve." 

Barcelona's busy run of fixtures continues with a trip to Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Ivan Rakitic came to Barcelona's rescue as the substitute fired Quique Setien's side to a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao. 

All eyes were on Lionel Messi, chasing his 700th career goal, but he had to settle for an assist to Rakitic's 71st-minute strike that lifted Barcelona back above Real Madrid. 

Amid Messi's pursuit of a slice of history, a drought had looked to be undermining Barcelona's LaLiga title bid until the late twist. 

After a goalless draw at Sevilla on Friday, Barcelona were far from their best again. 

The biggest impact Messi made until his assist for the goal was arguably the one he left on Yeray Alvarez's ankle in what was perhaps generously considered an innocent collision. 

He threatened to steal the headlines in the closing minutes when he darted in from the right flank, the ball on his left foot, and took aim for the far corner. 

It is a goal that Messi has scored so many times in his career, but this time the fierce shot flew wide of the left upright. Ansu Fati, meanwhile, hit the right post from close range in stoppage time. 

The chances were not all Barcelona's though, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen almost caught out in the opening moments of the game when Unai Lopez's snappy cross from a short corner on the left nearly arrowed into the far corner. 

Ter Stegen just got there in time, but the goalkeeper was struggling midway through the first half when Alvarez connected with Lopez's teasing free-kick. Ter Stegen and Barca were thankful the defender sent his header over the bar. 

After the break, Messi teed up Antoine Griezmann with a clever pass, but the French forward could not apply a suitable finish. 

Eventually the breakthrough came as Messi teased the ball through for the charging Rakitic to slam beyond Unai Simon. 

Luis Suarez suddenly looked energised and saw a thumping shot deflect over for a corner. The ineffective Griezmann had already made way, his drought now up to seven league games. 

Then came the moment when Messi should have completed another century of goals, but the landmark will have to wait. 

 

 

Barcelona boss Quique Setien understands why people would question whether VAR is being used appropriately as an intense debate in LaLiga's title race continues.

Top spot slipped from Barca's grasp last week as they were held to a goalless draw at Sevilla while Real Madrid earned a 2-1 away win over Real Sociedad.

Frustrated defender Gerard Pique said it would be "very difficult" for Barca to retain the title, expressing his belief that "it's going to be difficult for Madrid to lose points" having seen what has happened in the games since the restart.

Those comments, made after the Sevilla game on Friday, were regarded by some as a reference to refereeing decisions Madrid received in their favour during wins over Eibar and Valencia.

And the issue came to the fore again when Catalan media were unhappy VAR did not rule out a goal from Karim Benzema against Sociedad, while Adnan Januzaj had a goal disallowed for the hosts.

Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane hit out at constant talk about officials and insisted his team were deserving winners on Sunday, but Setien can understand the furore.

"There are things that we cannot control and that do not depend on us," said Setien.

"Regarding [the Madrid] game, everyone has seen how it has been and everyone will make the assessments that are appropriate

"Pique, not now but always, has always seemed a very intelligent person.

"I do not speculate [about VAR or Pique's words]. I hear a series of words and the frustration of having lost two points pushes you to say that LaLiga is going to be difficult. 

"In moments of frustration one may not have refined comments. Regarding the VAR, it is a tool that can undoubtedly make us better. 

"You have to use it because it gives us a clearer view of reality when you have to make quick decisions. The good thing is to be able to see them with different angles and with vision. 

"It is understandable that we think about why some actions are reviewed and others not, in some matches yes and others no. And one may think that it is not being used well.

"What seems clear is, there is always controversy and there will always be these problems that are inherent in football."

Madrid are top due to their superior head-to-head record and eight matches remain ahead of Barca's home clash with Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday. 

Setien added: "Athletic are a tough, difficult team and they defend well. The games we have played against them have not been easy."

Barcelona boss Quique Setien does not expect the injured Frenkie de Jong to miss the remainder of the LaLiga season.

Midfielder De Jong has a calf injury and will not be involved when the Catalans host Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday.

There have been suggestions the Netherlands international is likely to miss the rest of the league season, as Barca attempt to defend their title from Real Madrid over the final eight matches.

Setien, though, expects De Jong to recover sooner rather than later.

When asked if De Jong could miss the rest of 2019-20, he told reporters on Monday: "We hope that won't be the case. He has a small injury in the area of his calf and we'll see how he progresses. But I'm sure he'll be able to play a few games.

"He's a complete player because he gives us a lot of things when we have the ball, but he's also physical and covers a lot of space. He's young, he has dynamism, enthusiasm and quality. He's learning many things we've been trying to improve.

"It's true that he's an important loss and he could help us a lot. We're a little upset that he's not there, but these are things you have to adapt to. I still have confidence in the people who are going to play in his position."

Barca, who will also be without Sergi Roberto against Athletic, lost their place at the top of the table on Sunday as Real Madrid beat Real Sociedad 2-1 to take advantage of the champions' draw with Sevilla.

Although they are behind Madrid by virtue of their head-to-head record this season, meaning the title race is no longer in their hands, Setien says his Barca players have trained positively in recent days.

"We've trained very well. There's a bit of residual fatigue but we're going to try to keep up the excitement and expectations because we're convinced we can win the title and we're going to try to improve the footballing aspects we have to control," he said.

Setien included Jorge Cuenca and Dani Morer from the B team in his 24-man squad, but he does not necessarily expect either to play.

However, he says Samuel Umtiti has a chance of forcing his way back into the first-team picture after returning from suspension.

"As they gave us the option of taking 23 players, it's difficult for Cuenca to play, but we can't include players who haven't passed the [COVID-19] tests," he said.

"We'll see tomorrow because one of the two [Cuenca and Morer] will be left out. But they train with us every day and they're here.

"If we decided he [Umtiti] has to play, he would play. He's getting better and better and this is strictly a subject for me. These are football issues.

"It's true he's better but he was injured for a while and he hasn't been at the level of others. He's much better now and has his chances to play, like everyone else."

Setien added that Ousmane Dembele is progressing well in his recovery from a thigh injury but that his return to group training "will have to wait".

Barcelona confirmed they have detected an issue in the soleus muscle in Frenkie de Jong's calf after missing the draw with Sevilla.

The Netherlands international had to miss Friday's trip to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where Barca were frustrated in a goalless stalemate.

It was confirmed a day earlier that De Jong had been ruled out through injury, though the club did not reveal what the issue was.

Following further medical tests, Barca were able to determine the former Ajax talent is suffering with a problem in his soleus muscle in the right calf.

However, the club have not commented on how long he could be out for, saying the "evolution of the injury will condition the player's availability."

De Jong is in his first season at Camp Nou and has made 38 appearances across all competitions.

Barca are next in action at home to Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday, but by then they could have surrendered their place atop of LaLiga.

Friday's draw in Seville leaves them just three points ahead of Real Madrid, who have a game in hand.

Should Los Blancos win that match – away to Real Sociedad on Sunday – they will go top of the league due to their superior head-to-head record against Barca.

Diego Simeone challenged his Atletico Madrid players to treat every remaining LaLiga match like a final after a 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao hindered their top-four hopes.

Throughout his eight-and-a-half-year tenure, Simeone has expanded Spain's big two to a big three – most notably when Atleti pipped Barcelona and Real Madrid to the title in 2013-14.

However, they lie sixth in the standings after Saturday's stalemate at San Mames, with a 13th top-flight draw this season setting an unwanted club record.

In their previous competitive match before the coronavirus shutdown, Atletico sensationally dumped holders Liverpool out of the Champions League to reach the quarter-finals.

However, their participation in next season's competition is far from assured and fourth-placed Real Sociedad could open up a three-point advantage when they host Osasuna later on Sunday.

"The aim for the two teams was to always try to win, we started well in the first 10 minutes, then they positioned themselves better and they won the second ball and they did not let us attack," Simeone told reporters, after watching Diego Costa find a quickfire response to Iker Muniain's opener.

"The goal came, the reaction, after a very well-constructed play.

"In the second half we were closer to that victory. Santiago Arias' chance was the clearest. He could have allow us to take the victory in a stadium where you always have to work to win.

"We have one final left in each match."

Simeone picked two-goal Anfield hero Marcos Llorente in an advanced role behind Costa, leaving striker Alvaro Morata on the bench until the 63rd minute.

Nevertheless, the Atleti boss would not rule out pairing them as a front two in future, with a Wednesday trip to Osasuna in LaLiga on the agenda.

"Seeing what I see and knowing the squad, I interpreted this situation to be like this today," he said.

"Over time, they will be able to coexist. We understood that Marcos could give us some incision like he did, with some sprints, some passes and the dirty work."

Koke believes Atletico Madrid's 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao has done damage to their Champions League qualification prospects.

Diego Costa's 39th-minute goal on the end of a clever Koke pass ensured the first-half advantage Iker Muniain's splendid strike granted Athletic was short-lived.

However, Atleti were unable to affect a full turnaround, with substitute Santiago Arias going closest to a winner when he drew a point-blank save from Unai Simon 10 minutes from time.

It means Los Colcheneros have now won only one of their past 11 away matches in LaLiga, with Sunday's behind-closed-doors encounter at San Mames their 13th draw of the campaign – setting an unwanted club record.

"I believe it was a very strength-based game. It was a tough situation to be in," Koke told LaLiga TV, after the draw moved sixth-placed Atleti level on points with Getafe and Real Sociedad, the latter of whom take on Osasuna in Sunday's late kick-off.

"We didn't take our chances. We have to suffer and accept the draw. We want to be in the Champions League and we need to get hold of the points.

"It's difficult from this position that we're in.

"They were better placed than us all over the pitch. We managed to change things after the first goal and a couple of minutes after found the equaliser.

"Santi had the chance at the end to get us the win."

Ex-Atleti forward Raul Garcia impressed for the hosts alongside the influential Muniain and rued his team-mates switching off as Costa hit back.

"We knew it was going to be a very difficult game," he told LaLiga TV. "There was a bit of speculation about how the teams were going to come back to the league action but we both went out to win the game.

"Once you've just scored you normally relax a little bit and that's what happened to us today.

"But we have to take the positives. We manged to compete against one of the best teams in the league and unfortunately we couldn't get three points."

Copa del Rey finalists Athletic lie 10th, five points behind Valencia in seventh, which is likely to be the last Europa League qualifying spot should they lose to rivals Sociedad in the showpiece.

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