Zinedine Zidane admitted Real Madrid lacked fluency in their 2-0 win over Espanyol and said the team "can do much better", yet he still had saw positives at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Goals from Zidane's French compatriots Raphael Varane and Karim Benzema saw off the lowly visitors from Barcelona.

There were promising performances from the likes of striker Vinicius Junior and midfielder Federico Valverde, two youngsters of whom much is expected in the coming years.

But it was largely an underwhelming display by a team that ultimately ground down their opponents, Madrid's pedigree telling in the end despite Ferland Mendy's late red card.

"Today, we have to be happy because we continue on a good run," Zidane said afterwards.

"Of course, we can do much better, but we played a very serious game, respecting the opposition, and that is the most important thing."

Zidane said that 19th-placed Espanyol "do not deserve to be where they are in the table", and he acknowledged: "I think we controlled our own game, even though we were missing a bit of fluidity.

"Despite this, I'm happy because we scored two goals and didn't concede."

He added that he continues to feel pride at coaching Madrid in his second spell in the post, saying: "I am fortunate to be here with them.

"It is they who are fighting on the pitch and we have a very good squad. There is still a lot of work and let's not forget where we came from."

After winning three Champions League titles in his first spell as head coach, Zidane is jostling for more silverware this season, and his side are battling Barcelona for LaLiga supremacy, inching ahead of their great rivals at least for a few hours with their latest victory.

Asked about Valverde's lively display, Zidane said of the 21-year-old Uruguayan: "Fede has a place for many years here because he is demonstrating what he has, he is an important player, like everyone else.

"He is very young; when he plays, he doesn't have any trouble with the ball and without the ball. And when he plays, he does well."

Zidane also highlighted his other options in midfield, including Luka Modric, who came off the bench late on, and Isco, who was not used.

Modric, who was celebrating his new status as a Ballon d'Or winner this time last year, still has a major role to play for Madrid, as Zidane stressed: "He knows that occasionally he'll miss a game. But physically he can hold up very well."

In attack, Madrid continue to rely on the goals of Benzema, but they have a major talent in 19-year-old Brazilian Vinicius Junior.

His pace and dribbling caused Espanyol problems at times, and Zidane is sure the goals, in short supply for now, will come.

"The important thing is his work. What he has done, he has done well, both in attack and in defence," Zidane said. "I don't ask anyone for goals. That is a consequence of what the team does."

Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane praised the patience of his team-mates after Saturday's 2-0 win over Espanyol.

Madrid nudged clear of LaLiga title rivals Barcelona with a comfortable home victory thanks to goals from Varane and fellow Frenchman Karim Benzema.

Zinedine Zidane's side secured the points despite being reduced to 10 men in the 82nd minute after Ferland Mendy was sent off.

"It was a closely contested match against a rival that ran a lot and pressed us," Varane told Real Madrid TV.

"We had to be strong and solid at the back in order not to concede and be patient in front of goal. It was a good game from the team.

"After the second yellow card for Mendy we handled the remaining time well. We have kept a clean sheet and that is very good.

"We are playing with more confidence, at a good physical level and with a good team dynamic.

"We must continue because we have some tough games to end the year and we will give it our all."

Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde believes Madrid have been ruthless at taking their chances in recent matches.

"We are seizing the moment and enjoying playing together," he added. "Feeling the support of the fans helps us to move forward.

“The coach asks us to go for goal and get players into the area. I try to do that and as a team we did it well." 

Saturday lunchtime, and the Gran Via and Plaza Mayor are teeming with Christmas shoppers in Madrid.

Cyclists, too, are out in force, gathering for a peaceful protest ride to make the case for leaving the car at home.

This is day one of a UN climate change convention being hosted by Spain's capital, and it is hard not to be conflicted by the collision of consumerism and conservationism.

We are living through times where we want to give, give, give to afford loved ones brief relief from cataclysmic reality, but at the same time we are warned the shop-around-the-clock culture is killing the planet.

At the nearby Santiago Bernabeu stadium, Real Madrid are wearing their mint-green third kit for a home league fixture against Espanyol.

The gesture is one of solidarity with the environmental campaigners - eco warriors, one and all, particularly when a global audience can snag a rare glimpse of a shirt that retails around the £90 mark.

At the same time, Real Madrid are wondering what their hipster manager, Zinedine Zidane, might deserve in his stocking this year.

Has he been a good boy? Does he deserve Paul Pogba? Kylian Mbappe? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

Another pair of his beloved skinny jeans simply will not cut it this year.

Zidane, in middle age, still has the chutzpah and the physique to pull off a fashion statement, even if his band of footballers rarely catch the eye in such a manner.

A year ago he was enjoying a break from football, having grown tired of Real Madrid life. He and wife Veronique paid a trip to the Great Wall of China, and days later Zidane enjoyed dinner out with his fellow France 98 World Cup winners.

Retirement - for that is how it seemed - looked to be suiting the artisan footballer of his generation. A commercial deal here or there kept the money rolling in, and yet nine months after waving goodbye to the Bernabeu, Zidane was drawn back.

Saturday's 2-0 victory over lowly opposition was more pallid than it sounds, yet for several hours at least it lifted Madrid to the LaLiga summit. They and Barcelona are again duking it out for domestic silverware, and Madrid's saving grace is that their great rivals have also been shadows of their old selves at times this term.

The Clasico on Wednesday week - December 18 - might struggle to live up to that billing.

In this post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, Madrid all too often look bereft of the identity their great rivals still possess thanks to the ever-imperious Lionel Messi.

Neither Gareth Bale nor Eden Hazard, both temporarily absent through injury, has risen to the challenge of becoming Madrid's totemic personality, despite both being sufficiently gifted to step into the role. Newcomer Hazard deserves time to make his presence felt, but Bale's continuing presence - and the golf narrative - is helping nobody.

Bale is said by his agent to be "not ecstatic" to be at Madrid, and you wonder whether Zidane might soon feel similarly about his own second reign. The reliance on Karim Benzema, scorer of the second goal against Espanyol, is now all too obvious. This team look ripe to be picked off by stronger opposition, as Paris Saint-Germain have shown in the Champions League.

Marca reported on Saturday that Madrid must find 200 million euros to satisfy financial fair play bean-counters; presumably, in the absence of any more training grounds to sell, that means players will have to move on before others come in during January.

So recycling, fittingly enough, could be the salvation of this most functional of Real Madrid teams. The time is approaching for Zidane, the king of the first Galacticos era, to bring style and verve back to the Bernabeu.

That, or get on his bike.

Real Madrid extended their unbeaten run to nine games in all competitions with a straightforward 2-0 win over struggling Espanyol on Saturday.

Raphael Varane opened his season account and sent Los Blancos on their way to a fourth consecutive LaLiga victory with a left-footed finish in the 37th minute.

Karim Benzema made the points safe when he swept home Federico Valverde's pass 11 minutes from full-time, making Ferland Mendy's late sending off for a needless second booking the only blight on an otherwise unfussy showing.

Madrid's win momentarily edges them three points ahead of title rivals Barcelona, who host Mallorca later on Saturday.

Vinicius Junior started for the first time since October and registered two attempts on target inside the opening 30 minutes.

Thibaut Courtois clawed away Esteban Granero's header between those chances before Varane made the breakthrough.

The defender stayed forward following a corner and finished with impressive poise after Benzema created space through neat footwork.

Vinicius escaped a potential second yellow for an ungainly collision with David Lopez, then forced goalkeeper Diego Lopez into a near-post save.

Espanyol's number one prevented Benzema from doubling the margin when the French striker broke through on goal after the interval.

Benzema squandered another good chance to put the result beyond doubt 20 minutes from full-time, turning wide from Rodrygo's cut-back.

But the 31-year-old was not to be denied, his unerring low finish after Valverde's fine build-play ensuring the late loss of Mendy for a silly foul on Victor Gomez counted for little.
 

What does it mean? Madrid building towards El Clasico

The rescheduled first Clasico of the season is fast approaching and Madrid look set to take a good deal of confidence to Camp Nou on December 18.

Zinedine Zidane's men have two games to negotiate before that big test but the head coach will be pleased with how his side has moved on from a middling start to the season.


Vinicius excites in Madrid sunshine

Vinicius has struggled for minutes this season but here it was simple to see why Zidane has ruled out a loan move.

The winger was vibrant and incisive on the left flank, with a sense of over-eagerness perhaps the only area for improvement.


Marching orders for Mendy

The absence of Marcelo due to a calf strain offered an opportunity to France defender Mendy and he had been perfectly serviceable for over 80 minutes.

That will have made it all the more frustrating for Zidane when his second-choice left-back left a foot in on Victor Gomez for the second time in the space of 20 second-half minutes, earning him a red card and forcing him out of the next match against Valencia.


What's next?

Madrid conclude their Champions League group stage commitments with a midweek trip to Club Brugge, then visit Valencia on Sunday.

Espanyol have a Europa League game at home to CSKA Moscow before next weekend's date with Real Betis.

Zinedine Zidane has no qualms with Gareth Bale continuing to play golf, even though Wales may not allow the Real Madrid forward on courses during Euro 2020.

This week, Football Association of Wales (FAW) chief executive Jonathan Ford said he did not want players "risking their fitness by playing golf" as he scouts out potential training bases for Ryan Giggs' squad next year.

That could mean Bale is unable to partake in his favourite hobby, with the 30-year-old drawing the ire of Los Blancos fans when he posed with a 'Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order' flag last month as Wales qualified for the Euros.

Bale is currently out injured with a hamstring problem, yet Zidane insists he will not follow the FAW's lead when it comes to keeping him off the golf course.

"I'm going to give you my reply, the club might say something different," Zidane told a news conference to preview Real Madrid's clash with Espanyol.

"As Real Madrid manager I'm not going to stop my players doing anything in their free time.

"They're mature enough and they need to know what they need to do."

Zidane revealed Bale trained on Friday but "not as the same intensity as his team-mates", and he will likely miss Saturday's game along with Eden Hazard and Marcelo, who have respective ankle and calf problems.

Media reports suggested Hazard is set to miss El Clasico against Barcelona on December 18 due to the injury, with Zidane confirming the problem was worse than first feared.

"It's always bad news when a player gets injured," Zidane said.

"Of course he's upset that he's unavailable. It might be a bit more concerning, the injury, than we first thought.

"We will have to see, but he will be back with the rest of the players soon."

Hazard made a slow start to life at Madrid and has still scored just once in LaLiga, but Zidane feels he was rediscovering the type of form he showed at Chelsea prior to picking up the injury against Paris Saint-Germain last week.

"It's a very bad piece of news that we've lost Eden Hazard to injury as we have some very big games coming up," Zidane added.

"He had been playing very well and I'm sure he will again in the future. It's not good when you have players out injured, especially a player like Eden Hazard.

"He was in great form. We've seen him play very well, he had reproduced that form that we had seen before in England. It's a setback and hopefully he won't be out for long."

Gareth Bale's agent says the Wales forward has never asked to leave Real Madrid even though he is "not ecstatic" at the club.

Bale's relationship with Madrid's fans, coaching staff and the Spanish media has become strained this year.

Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane said in July it would be "best for everyone" if Bale left the club ahead of a proposed switch to China's Jiangsu Suning.

However, the deal collapsed and the 30-year-old has remained with the LaLiga side.

Bale's agent Jonathan Barnett said the player has never requested a move away from Madrid.

"He has never asked to leave," Barnett told the BBC's Euro Leagues Podcast.

"He has a contract with Real Madrid and as long as they want him, there's not much anyone can do about it.

"No-one has ever accused him of not giving 100 per cent and a 100 per cent Gareth Bale is one of the best players in the world. The coach should be happy and honoured he is on the pitch for him.

"There's no guarantee he is leaving. If the right opportunity came along for him and it's something he wants to do, we have to have a chat with the president of Real Madrid and see where we are."

Barnett acknowledged Bale, who has won the Champions League four times and LaLiga with Madrid, was not thrilled to still at the club.

"He's not ecstatic," Barnett added, when asked whether Bale was happy at the Bernabeu.

"He has got a contract and as long as he is a Real Madrid player he will play at 100 per cent – and do very well. 

"He wants to win the championship and the European championship and everything else. It will not affect his performance.

"The facts and figures prove if he is on the field for Real Madrid they have a better chance of winning."

Bale held a flag up, after Wales beat Hungary in a Euro 2020 qualifier, which claimed he put his country and time on the golf course ahead of Madrid.

"It was directed only to the media because they had been writing very infantile and stupid stories from people that do not know him," Barnett said of the 'Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order' banner.

"The truth is he has done fantastically for Real Madrid in the years he has been there and helped them win so much."

Real Madrid's character in their 2-1 win over Deportivo Alaves at a sodden Mendizorroza delighted head coach Zinedine Zidane.

Goals from skipper Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal either side of Lucas Perez's 65th-minute penalty put Madrid three points clear of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga, ahead of the champions entertaining Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou on Sunday.

Zidane selected Alphonse Areola ahead of Thibaut Courtois in goal, while Eder Militao and the under-fire Gareth Bale also started in a shuffled line-up for a keenly contested match.

"It's very important victory, but [we will not be] looking at tomorrow's game between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid," Zidane told a post-match news conference.

"Winning at these grounds is what we live for. We played with lots of personality.

"We played really seriously. We knew that we had to fight and we did it.

"We've got three points at a very difficult place to come."

On his surprise selection calls, Zidane added: "[Starting] Areola was today's decision. He's part of the squad, he trains well.

"He's part of the squad and he saved us, like Courtois sometimes does. He did fantastically well.

"Militao did very well and he has the right to play.

"We have to play every three days. The important thing is that everyone shows me every week that they are plugged in."

Madrid return to LaLiga action next weekend when they host Espanyol.

Zinedine Zidane named Gareth Bale in Real Madrid's starting XI and left Thibaut Courtois on the bench for Saturday's meeting with Deportivo Alaves.

Madrid had the chance to go top of LaLiga, at least temporarily, with a point and four changes were made to the team that conceded two late goals in a 2-2 Champions League draw against Paris Saint-Germain in midweek.

Eden Hazard's absence as the result of an ankle injury gave Wales international Bale the chance to start at club level for the first time since October 5.

The 30-year-old winger angered Los Blancos supporters last week when he posed in front of a flag that read: "WALES. GOLF. MADRID. IN THAT ORDER".

Eder Militao took the place of Raphael Varane, who reportedly suffered a knock against PSG, while loanee Alphonse Areola got the nod in goal as head coach Zidane shuffled his pack for a third game in seven days.

Luka Modric came into midfield for Fede Valverde, who joined Vinicius Junior on the bench.

Zidane declared the little-used Brazilian attacker would not be sent out on loan in January, but it remained to be seen if he would get an opportunity to impress against the competition's 13th-placed team.

Vinicius Junior will not be leaving Real Madrid in the January transfer window, head coach Zinedine Zidane insists.

The Brazil winger has not started a Madrid match since October 19 and has scored just once in 11 appearances in all competitions this season.

The future of the 19-year-old has been placed in doubt, with some reports suggesting he could leave on loan at the turn of the year in order to find regular first-team football.

Zidane, though, has no desire to let Vinicius leave and has backed him to prove his worth to Madrid.

"Vinicius isn't going to go. He's going to continue here," Zidane told reporters on Friday.

"It's not his moment right now, but it will be.

"I have 26 players and I have to leave some out of the squad. It's not his moment, as I've said, but he has to be ready for when it is.

"What changed is that there's [Eden] Hazard and there's Rodrygo [Goes]. He's training well but now there are other important players and I have to choose."

With Hazard having suffered an ankle injury in the Champions League draw with Paris Saint-Germain, Vinicius could get a chance to impress in Saturday's LaLiga game against Deportivo Alaves.

Zidane hopes to have Hazard available for next week's meeting with Espanyol, although he remains uncertain over his return.

"It's nothing serious but there's no concrete recovery plan. We'll see if he can be ready for next week," he said of the Belgium star.

"I can't say if he'll be ready for the Clasico [on December 18]. Everything depends on how [the injury] evolves, on the day-to-day."

Zidane also offered sympathy to Unai Emery, who was sacked by Arsenal on Friday after a run of just one win in nine matches.

"I'm very sorry. I don't like it when coaches get sacked and Emery is a great coach," he said of the former Sevilla boss.

"I'm sure he'll be coaching a team again very quickly."

Real Madrid confirmed Eden Hazard only suffered a bruised ankle in Tuesday's 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain, meaning he is not expected to be a doubt for El Clasico on December 18.

Belgium international Hazard impressed before his withdrawal 21 minutes from time in the home Champions League clash, as Madrid went on to give up a two-goal lead in the final nine minutes.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane acknowledged the problem was a worry, claiming it was "more than a simple blow".

But the club confirmed on Wednesday that the winger only suffered bruising rather than ligament damage.

"After the tests performed on our player Eden Hazard by the Real Madrid medical services, he has been diagnosed with an external perimalleolar contusion [bruise] on his right leg," a statement read.

According to media reports, Hazard is expected to be out for around 10 days, meaning there should be minimal risk of him missing the Clasico in Madrid's penultimate LaLiga match of 2019.

There were enough sub-plots for Real Madrid's Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain to be turned into a feature-length film before a ball had even been kicked at the Santiago Bernabeu.

By the end of 90 breathless, pulsating and sheer joy-inducing minutes there were enough storylines to make a franchise that could rival even the lucrative Marvel series.

For 81 of those, Zinedine Zidane and his expensively assembled squad of Galacticos were almost tactically flawless.

The decision to hand Isco a first start in six weeks appeared truly inspired. The short, sharp passing in a midfield trio alongside Federico Valverde and Casemiro had PSG – who had dominated the same opponents 3-0 on matchday one – chasing white shirts with about as much success as an excitable dog longing to reach its tail.

If that problem wasn't big enough then the one caused by Eden Hazard would have given PSG's defence and head coach Thomas Tuchel nightmare-filled sleep for the foreseeable future.

Injury woes early in his Madrid career have meant it has taken Hazard a little while to get up to speed in the Spanish capital.

But for 70 minutes here, Hazard was utterly joyous – try as you might, taking your eyes of this Rolls Royce of a footballer was an impossible task.

Hazard was full of the sort of invention, creativity and genius nuances that convinced Madrid to part with over €100million to prise him from Chelsea.

It was as much a blow to the neutrals watching when Hazard was helped off the pitch following a strong challenge from Belgium team-mate Thomas Meunier as it was to Zidane and his Madrid team-mates.

That Hazard departing the pitch through injury became almost a footnote tells a story in itself about this classic of the Champions League genre.

Karim Benzema's second goal in the 79th minute should have been the cherry atop of a scrumptious cake for Madrid, who despite Zidane's protestations to the contrary would have had revenge in mind.

Granted it had taken a helping hand from the VAR, another of football's most divisive modern issues, to get that point.

The decision to overturn a red card for Thibaut Courtois – who rashly wiped out Mauro Icardi – for the softest of fouls from Idrissa Gueye on Marcelo earlier in the move appeared certain to dominate the narrative.

Even accounting for that let-off, it was another side-note in a game swimming with them that kept Madrid at bay.

Keylor Navas, who left for PSG having fallen behind Courtois in the goalkeeper pecking order at Madrid, was in inspired form – Benzema and Isco particularly left frustrated by his brilliance. That he was received so well by the home crowd speaks volumes of his contribution over five trophy-laden years at the Bernabeu.

Indeed it was his heroics that allowed Kylian Mbappe – the man so desired by Los Blancos fans – to take an almighty spanner and throw it directly into the works.

Those familiar with the story know Madrid have not exactly been quiet in expressing their admiration for the World Cup winner. Heck, even this week Zidane publicly declared his love for the rapid forward, who it is hard to imagine will not one day don the famous white of Madrid.

That love may have dwindled a little when Mbappe capitalised on a lack of communication between Courtois and Raphael Varane to hand PSG a precious lifeline.

Two minutes later, the irony will not have been lost on Zidane that the man to deny Madrid what would, in truth, have been a deserved victory to keep their hopes of finishing top of Group A alive was Pablo Sarabia – a player who graduated through the youth ranks at the Bernabeu.

Remarkably, only the width of a post denied one final twist and one so tantalisingly delicious it would not have been out of place in an M. Night Shyamalan film.

Gareth Bale, a man much derided by his own fans and the Spanish media for his 'WALES. GOLF. MADRID. IN THAT ORDER' banner celebration after Wales qualified for Euro 2020, stood poised over a free-kick 30 yards from goal.

This particular narrative only narrowly failed to play out. Had it done so the reactions would have been incredulity, shock and uncontrollable laughter. In that order.

When the dust settles, Zidane will analyse with forensic scrutiny Madrid's failure to first kill the contest through the numerous chances they created, and second to manage the game when two up with 10 minutes to go.

But for anyone without an affiliation for either of these two giants of European football, the only thing to do was sit back, jaws gaping, as the credits rolled on a match worthy of any big screen.

Zinedine Zidane admitted he was worried about Eden Hazard's ankle injury suffered in Real Madrid's 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain.

Hazard was substituted in the second half at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Madrid gave up a 2-0 lead in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Zidane, whose team are guaranteed to finish second in Group A, is concerned about the injury blow.

"Yes, it's a worry," the Madrid coach told Movistar.

At his news conference, Zidane added: "It is more than a simple blow, but I hope it is less. I can't say right now.

"They have now gone to do tests and we will see."

A brace from Karim Benzema had put Madrid on track for victory with just 11 minutes remaining.

However, Kylian Mbappe and Pablo Sarabia scored in the space of two minutes to earn PSG a draw.

While unhappy with the result, Zidane said the performance from Madrid was pleasing.

"It has been a great match of the team. We keep growing. You have to be happy with the game," he said.

"Then with the result you cannot be happy but nothing happens. You have to be happy with what we did for 80 or 85 minutes."

Neymar has been benched for Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League clash at Real Madrid.

The Brazil star returned from a month-long absence with a hamstring injury in Friday's 2-0 Ligue 1 victory over Lille.

However, with PSG already through to the next round head coach Thomas Tuchel has opted not to risk the fitness of the flamboyant forward.

Instead, Mauro Icardi, Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe line-up in a front three for the Group A clash at the Santiago Bernabeu.

It marks the first time Neymar has started a Champions League match on the bench since November 2014 when he was at Barcelona.

There are few surprises for a Madrid side who are still yet to book their spot in the knockout stages, with a win against PSG guaranteeing a last-16 berth.

Gareth Bale remains on the substitutes bench amid an uneasy relationship with the Los Blancos faithful, following his celebration after Wales qualified for Euro 2020.

The forward held up a banner that read 'WALES. GOLF. MADRID. IN THAT ORDER' in an apparent dig at the Spanish press' perception Madrid have slipped down Bale's list of priorities.

Thomas Tuchel has suggested Zinedine Zidane loves Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe more because he is unattainable.

Speaking ahead of Real Madrid and PSG's Champions League clash on Tuesday, Los Blancos boss Zinedine Zidane reaffirmed his admiration for the France international, saying: "I am already in love with him."

Tuchel laughed off suggestions he was angry with Zidane for his remarks, stating he is not the only one who loves the 20-year-old World Cup winner.

"I don't know how in love Zidane is with Mbappe, but we really love our player," he told a media conference.  

"The most important thing is that he is our player. We are happy to have him with us. When you can't have things you want, you want it even more."

PSG blew Madrid away 3-0 in their opening Group A game in September, but Tuchel is expecting a far tougher test at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"It is a different game for many reasons," he added. "Firstly, we are playing in Madrid – one of the hardest stadiums to play in. Madrid have leaders and captains all over the pitch.

"Now they are playing well and are in great form. They have a lot more victories and don't concede a lot of goals.

"It's really hard to play against Madrid now, especially when they are at home. But we are a well-balanced team. We are dangerous and we will pose a challenge for them.

"I'm really convinced it is time to grab the opportunity because we can be really dangerous if we work together and if we are patient. It is a good time to show people and prove that we are able to play a great game and a really hard one like this."

The Ligue 1 champions have already qualified for the knockout stages after winning all four of their group games.

Tuchel has demanded his side plays with the same intensity that has characterised their campaign so far when they face off against Zidane's men.

"We have showed great intensity with the ball during the group stage and it has been really impressive," he said.

"This is the key. Without the work of the whole team it is not possible to win games in the Champions League. If we want to win against Madrid it is mandatory to play like that. That will be the challenge and we have set the benchmark."

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane could once again face the wrath of Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo after declaring his love for Kylian Mbappe.

Mbappe, 20, is consistently linked with a move away from the Ligue 1 giants, where he has starred since arriving in 2017.

Zidane has long been an admirer of the France international and said last month it was Mbappe's dream to play for Los Blancos.

That led to Leonardo responding: "It annoys me a little and it bothers me. This is not the time to talk about this. He still has two and a half years of contract with us. It's time to stop all this."

Speaking ahead of Madrid's Champions League clash with PSG on Tuesday, Zidane once again expressed his admiration for the World Cup winner.

"You know that I have known him for a long time," he told a media conference. "I am already in love with him, firstly as a person, because he came to do a trial here a long time ago.

"On Tuesday he comes as a rival. What matters to me is what we are going to do and we are going to prepare for it. We know the player and we must be prepared."

Mbappe could line up alongside Neymar at the Santiago Bernabeu after the Brazilian superstar made his first appearance for a month in the Ligue 1 win over Lille on Friday.

Zidane believes the pair will be named in Thomas Tuchel's starting XI and expects a tough test against a side he ranks among the best in the world.

"Nothing changes for me because I think Neymar and Mbappe are going to play," he explained. "We are prepared in any case to play against any team.

"PSG is a very good team. I think it will be a great game. Since the beginning of the season they have not had many failures; they have lost very little in the league.

"I see a team that is progressing very well. They are one of the best teams in the world.

"They will demand a lot from us and we know that. In the end, we're going to need a lot of things – our heads, our hearts and a lot of good football. We need to work well with the ball."

Madrid are five points behind PSG at the summit of Group A but will qualify for the last 16 if they overcome the French champions.

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