Zinedine Zidane said Gareth Bale's absence from Real Madrid's squad for their draw with Leganes was a "technical decision".

Bale was left out of the squad as Madrid drew 2-2 with Leganes on Sunday, having already clinched the LaLiga title.

The Wales international seems set to leave the LaLiga giants after making just two appearances since the season resumed last month, with his behaviour while on the bench being questioned.

James Rodriguez has been left out of the past five matchday squads – with personal reasons cited initially – and Zidane discussed the duo after finishing the LaLiga campaign.

"You know what happened with one [James]. The other is a technical decision," the Madrid coach said, via AS.

Luka Jovic, meanwhile, came off the bench for what was just his second appearance since the coronavirus-enforced break.

The forward has been linked with a move away after scoring just twice in 26 appearances in his first season in Madrid.

"As always when I talk about Luka, what I say is that he is young," Zidane said.

"He has talent, but it has been a difficult season for him, especially with injuries.

"Of course things that have happened to him, I trust him. We will see next year."

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane says his players will "disconnect" as they prepare for the resumption of the Champions League next month.

Los Blancos, who secured a first LaLiga title since 2017 this week, travel to the Etihad Stadium on August 7 looking to overturn a 2-1 first-leg defeat in their quarter-final against Manchester City.

Speaking after Madrid wrapped up their domestic campaign with a 2-2 draw against Leganes on Sunday – a result that condemned their neighbours to relegation – Zidane says his players will be allowed some time to relax, but is adamant the next few weeks will not be a holiday.

"It is not a holiday that we have now," he said. "Now, I don't think about City. We want to disconnect a bit, then we will have all the time to think. We will have 10-15 days to think. We will disconnect.

"Until the last second we are going to fight to go to that final, but now you don't have to think about the Champions League. It is time to rest and think about gathering strength. The final stretch has been a tremendous effort. Now we all need some relaxation. This is what we are going to do.

"After these four or five days off, we go back and think about the Champions League. No stress or worries."

Madrid were far from their best against Leganes but Zidane refused to be too critical of his players. 

"During the game you can get angry because we didn't play at our level," he said. "We didn't win but we didn't lose either. In the end I prefer to focus on what we did before today. The season has been spectacular. We have to be happy with what we did."

During an emotional TV interview after the final whistle, Leganes captain Unai Bustinza said he was proud of his team-mates' willingness to fight until the end.

"We're all so upset and frustrated and can't believe this," he said as Leganes' four-year stay in the top flight came to an end. "We kept going right until the end and we never let our heads drop. We wanted to do everybody proud. Football can do this to you.

"It's been a difficult year and we haven't had a great deal of luck. Everyone will be upset but we have to lift ourselves back up and come back strongly."

Eden Hazard admitted his first year with Real Madrid has been the worst season of his career.

Former Chelsea star Hazard cost Madrid an initial fee reported to be €100million last July but has endured an injury-plagued 2019-20.

A hamstring issue delayed his debut for Los Blancos, while foot and ankle problems have contributed to him starting just 21 games in all competitions.

Madrid have won the Supercopa de Espana and LaLiga in 2019-20 and remain in the Champions League, though they lost the first leg of their last-16 tie against Manchester City 2-1.

While Hazard was pleased to have got off to a triumphant start at the Santiago Bernabeu, he acknowledged he contributed little to the cause.

"There have been injuries, but I hope next year will be even better," Hazard, who was left out of the squad to face Leganes on Sunday, told franceinfo.

"Even if this season had not been terrible for me, I couldn't have asked for a better experience than coming here and winning the league in my first year.

"This year, it is collectively that we won the title, because on an individual level I have surely had the worst season of my career."

If Madrid overturn their deficit against City, they will face Juventus or Lyon in the quarter-finals when the Champions League heads to Lisbon.

"It was a somewhat bizarre season with everything that happened," said Hazard.

"The season is already very good, but I think it can be even better if we progress from our last-16 second leg of the Champions League.

"When you play for Real Madrid, you want to win all the possible titles. The next one, it has to be the Champions League, even if it's going to be difficult because we have to play at Manchester City and they have a very nice team."

Guiding Madrid to LaLiga glory saw Zinedine Zidane take his trophy haul across two spells in charge to 11 – three shy of Miguel Munoz's club record.

"We all know Zidane as a player, he was the best. As a coach, we don't even need to describe him anymore," said Hazard.

"He has proven, in just a few years, that he is already one of the best coaches. He trusts his players and his players trust him. That's why it works."

Madrid are on course to concede the fewest amount of goals in a 38-game LaLiga season in their history, and Hazard thinks having "one of the best centre-backs in history" in Raphael Varane has been key.

The winger said: "In my career, I have known very great defenders, such as John Terry or Vincent Kompany.

"I think Rapha, even though he is still young, is already one of the best centre-backs in history. The partnership he has with Sergio Ramos is great."

Zinedine Zidane insisted he was not "special", saying he was simply lucky to be in charge of Real Madrid.

Zidane has led Madrid to the LaLiga title this season for his 11th trophy as coach of the Spanish giants.

But the Frenchman dismissed any suggestions he felt like the "special one" – a title Jose Mourinho has previously used to describe himself.

"No, no. I don't feel that. I feel lucky to be here with these players every day," Zidane told a news conference.

"And being in this club, that's why I feel lucky, and that's why I enjoy that much every day. Because one day [it] will finish, as it happened already, but this time for real.

"That's why I am enjoying and focused on these kinds of things."

Madrid's LaLiga title was their first since 2016-17, when Cristiano Ronaldo led them to the crown.

Ahead of their final game of the league season against Leganes on Sunday, Zidane paid tribute to his players for delivering the title.

"I think every title we get is merit of the team, the players who are involved in that time," he said.

"It doesn't have to demerit them, especially this one, as it has been very complicated and tough. We have fought until the end.

"It is time to enjoy the achievement, but for football and for everyone, we have a game [against Leganes]."

Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez have been omitted from Real Madrid's squad to face Leganes.

Zinedine Zidane's side will conclude their triumphant LaLiga campaign on Sunday, unblemished form since the resumption seeing off bitter rivals Barcelona with a game to spare.

Los Blancos' 34th Spanish title has been secured largely without the input of Hazard, Bale and James.

Hazard has struggled for form and fitness since joining from Chelsea for €100million before the start of the season.

The 29-year-old Belgium international was still recently feeling the effects of surgery on a broken foot and, although he started for the first time in five matches in the title-clinching 2-1 win over Villarreal, he will miss out this weekend.

Hazard is still expected to have a productive future at Madrid, although it is hard to say the same for Bale and James.

Wales forward Bale has become an increasingly marginalised figure since Zidane's return last term. He has appeared just twice since the restart and the 31-year-old's absence from Sunday's travelling party will end a run of six matches as an unused substitute.

It will be James' fifth game in a row in which he has not been involved. The Colombia playmaker spent the previous two seasons on loan at Bayern Munich and his only appearance of 2020 came when he was handed a surprise start in last month's 2-1 win at Real Sociedad.

James, 29, has a year left on his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu, while Bale's terms run through until 2022.

After facing Leganes - who sit third bottom and must extend their superb late-season form to four wins from five unbeaten matches to have a chance of survival - Madrid travel to face Manchester City on August 7, when they will attempt to overturn a 2-1 deficit in the Champions League last-16 tie.

Zinedine Zidane has just won LaLiga and has a contract with Real Madrid until 2022 but acknowledged his future at the club could quickly have a different outlook.

In his first full season back at the helm, Zidane has led Madrid to success in the Supercopa de Espana and LaLiga to take his trophy haul across two spells in the dugout to 11 – three shy of equalling Miguel Munoz's club record.

With the league wrapped up, the Spanish champions can focus on the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Manchester City. They trail 2-1 ahead of the return game at the Etihad Stadium on August 7.

Zidane guided Madrid to the Champions League trophy, which is considered the main objective every season at the Santiago Bernabeu, in three straight seasons during his first stint as coach.

Despite only winning LaLiga on Thursday, Zidane was asked if he could guarantee that he will be at the helm next season.

He replied: "Nobody knows what's going to happen in the future. I never talk about next season or the following year.

"I've got a contract and I'm happy. You never know what will happen in the future.

"Things can change overnight in the world of football and I have no idea what the future holds."

Zidane urged his team to maintain their intensity in their final LaLiga game of the season on Sunday against Leganes, who will be hoping to get a positive result and retain their top-flight status.

"We have to find that motivation. It's a league game. When we put on the Real Madrid shirt, we want to win all the games," he said.

"That's the DNA at Real Madrid. It's a league game not a friendly and we want to play well.

"I don't think we've got anything to prove. We just want to maintain this positive momentum. We want to keep winning.

"We have another big game. We said there were 11 finals. There were 10 and we won the league, but we want to finish in the best way possible.

"We want to keep pushing and testing ourselves until the very end of the season. There will be a few days' rest after the game against Leganes, but the season continues. We will be back training and preparing for City after the game against Leganes."

Karim Benzema struck both of Madrid's goals in their 2-1 victory over Villarreal last time out, moving him onto 21 in LaLiga for the season – two fewer than league-leading Barcelona captain Lionel Messi.

While Zidane would take great pride in Benzema winning the Pichichi Award for LaLiga's highest scoring player, he was not willing to give any hints about his team selection for trip to Butarque.

"I'd love for Benzema to get the Pichichi," said Zidane. "But I'm not going to say who's going to play.

"He's a player whose done a great job and deserves to end the season as the top goalscorer, but it's going to go down to the final game of the season. Let's see what happens on Sunday."

Real Madrid's record-extending 34th LaLiga title was heralded as "Unforgettable!" in the Spanish capital, but in Barcelona the mourning was just beginning on Friday.

The newsstands in each city presented front pages that could hardly have been more contrasting, with the Madrid-based papers in celebratory mood and those from Barcelona reflecting a solemn tone.

Madrid clinched their latest success with a 2-1 win over Villarreal on Thursday, and Lionel Messi's brutal assessment of Barca's failings also caught the eye in the Spanish sports press.

Here is a look at how they reported the triumph of Zinedine Zidane's team, and a grim night for Quique Setien's Barca.

MARCA: "Unforgettable!"

Spain's best-known sports newspaper is Madrid-based, and its wraparound cover showed Zidane's squad in party mood.

AS: "And they go to 34!"

As well as quoting Zidane's comment that the title made him "happier than the Champions League", Madrid-based AS found space on its own wraparound cover for Messi, saying he "explodes after the latest fiasco" for Barcelona.

SPORT : "This isn't enough"

Barcelona-based SPORT pictured a despondent Messi, accompanied by his declaration that the Catalan giants have not reached the heights required of champions.

MUNDO DEPORTIVO: "Messi explodes"

Another Barcelona-based daily reflected the anger of captain Messi, who said after Madrid landed the title that his team must be "self-critical" before next season begins.

L'ESPORTIU: "People are running out of patience because we don’t give them anything"

The Catalan-language sports newspaper inevitably also focused on the frustrations of Messi, picturing the Argentinian with the Barcelona shirt pulled over his face.

L'EQUIPE: "The jewels of Real"

Madrid's title provided cause for celebration in France, where the high-circulation sports daily L'Equipe splashed with pictures of Zidane and Karim Benzema, the two Frenchmen at the centre of Los Blancos' success story.

Zinedine Zidane is the "prodigal son" whose status as a top coach was already secure before Real Madrid clinched LaLiga glory on Thursday, says Christian Karembeu.

Madrid defeated Villarreal 2-1 at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano to dethrone Barcelona and win the top-flight title for just the third time in the past 12 seasons.

Zidane led Los Blancos to success in the Champions League three straight times during his first spell in charge of the club and has now overseen 11 trophy wins across both his tenures.

Despite questions about his true ability as a coach given all his success has come with one of the world's biggest clubs, Zidane's former France team-mate, and ex-Madrid player, Karembeu thinks his credentials were validated before he returned to the club last year.

He told Stats Perform News: "[Zinedine] Zidane doesn't need to prove to anyone anymore that he's a great coach. Everyone can agree on that, winning three Champions Leagues in a row is enough. And then he won LaLiga.

"For me, he's the prodigal son and he deserves to win so many titles because he's innovative and he's learned a lot, despite players coming and going, he managed to create a winning team, there's nothing else to say."

Karim Benzema struck both Madrid's goals against Villarreal to take his LaLiga tally for the season to 21 – the first time he has surpassed 20 in back-to-back league campaigns.

Asked if Benzema is a contender to win the Ballon d'Or, Karembeu said: "Zizou himself said it, all his players deserve the Ballon d'Or, so that includes Karim as well, obviously.

"Karim has always played efficiently in all of his games and he has also scored plenty of goals every season, in all competitions.

"He knew how to move between the lines when Cristiano [Ronaldo] was there but can also offer himself to lead the attack when he needs to.

"He knew to play with [Gonzalo] Higuain, with [Alvaro] Morata, with Cristiano, and with [Gareth] Bale. And now he's still there, still efficient as ever."

Madrid's defence was key to their LaLiga triumph and if they let in fewer than three against Leganes on Sunday they will set a club record for the fewest goals conceded in a 38-game season.

Captain Sergio Ramos has been central to that effort, while he has contributed 10 goals to equal the most prolific LaLiga campaign by a defender since the turn of the millennium.

Ramos has entered the final year of his contract but expressed a hope to retire at Madrid amid their title celebrations, and Karembeu detailed how important he is to the team.

"I think Sergio Ramos is the key player for Los Blancos," said Karembeu.

"He's the captain. He's a role model for everyone. He's a warrior, he does his job. He also enjoys the game, but when they have to win, he knows how to raise his level and inspire Real Madrid to victory.

"When he signed for Real Madrid and took Fernando Hierro's number on his jersey, a defender who had scored many goals, I already knew he'd be a success.

"Sergio is doing very well. He has surpassed everyone. When he's playing good, the whole squad is playing good."

Real Madrid are champions of Spain again, having sealed LaLiga glory by defeating Villarreal on Thursday.

GAME INFO

Madrid trailed Barcelona by two points when LaLiga was suspended in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, but a season-best 10-game winning run catapulted them to the title.

With the help of Opta, we take a look at the numbers behind Los Blancos' latest triumph.

 

THE BIG PICTURE

By claiming their 34th LaLiga title – the equivalent of a 38 per cent success rate in the competition's 89-year history – Madrid have won the league eight more times than any other team. Barcelona are the nearest contenders on 26, while Atletico Madrid, who sit third in the all-time list, have taken home the trophy 24 times fewer than their more illustrious neighbours. Madrid topping the table this term means that, although 63 different teams have featured in LaLiga, only nine have won the title.

COACHING HISTORY ON THE HORIZON

Zinedine Zidane has now led Madrid to 11 pieces of silverware across his two spells with the club – with three more he will equal Miguez Munoz as the most successful coach in their history. The Frenchman has joined Fabio Capello (1996-97 and 2006-07) and Luis Molowny (1977-78, 1978-79 and 1985-86) as the only Madrid bosses to win LaLiga titles in different stints at the helm.

CLASICO AND DERBI DOMINANCE

Madrid avoided defeat and kept a clean sheet in both their LaLiga games against Barca this season – the first time they have done so since the 1974-75 campaign under Milan Mijanic. They also went unbeaten against Atletico and claimed a pair of shutouts, making it the first LaLiga season in which they did not concede a goal in El Clasico or El Derbi.

STRENGTH AT THE BACK

A strong defence has underpinned Madrid's success and they are on course to set a club record for the fewest goals conceded in a 38-game LaLiga season – their previous best was 26 in 1987-88. They also need one more clean sheet to record 20 in a single top-flight campaign for the first time in their history. That would not be the only impressive achievement for Thibaut Courtois, who has tied Francisco Buyo (1977-78) for the most clean sheets by a Madrid goalkeeper in a season (18). The Belgian has saved each of the 26 shots on target from outside the area he has faced in LaLiga this term. Since at least 2003-04, no team has finished a season without conceding a goal from outside the box.

GOALS FROM EVERYWHERE

Madrid have used 26 players this term and 21 of those have scored – the most by a team in a single LaLiga season in the 21st century. Captain and centre-back Sergio Ramos has found the back of the net 10 times – six from the penalty spot – and if he scores again will set a record for the best tally by a defender in a campaign since the turn of the millennium. Karim Benzema has also upped his game since Zidane's return has topped 20 goals in back-to-back seasons for the first time.

Karim Benzema wants to return to Lyon one day but is in no rush to leave Real Madrid because he has everything he could want at the Santiago Bernabeu, according to his former agent.

Benzema came through the academy at Lyon and spent five years with the senior side until joining Madrid in 2009, having established himself as one of Europe's most promising young players.

The Frenchman has gone on to enjoy huge success in his 11 years with Madrid, winning 17 trophies and scoring 246 goals.

For a while it looked like Benzema's Madrid career might peter out, with his record of just 16 LaLiga goals across the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons leaving a lot to be desired, and fans jeering him on a regular basis.

But he has enjoyed a resurgence over the past two years and has been vital to the club's form this term, with Los Blancos able to wrap up the 2019-20 LaLiga title on Thursday.

An exit certainly does not appear to be on the horizon, but the 32-year-old's former representative is adamant Benzema wants to return to Lyon in some capacity in future.

"Today, with the situation he lives at Madrid, he is at the height of what a footballer wants," Karim Djaziri told OLTV. "Playing at Madrid, being very close to your coach, adored by the public. Today, it is not possible [to return].

"But, since he left Lyon, Karim has only one desire, it is to return to Lyon. Will it be as a player? It remains a regret for Karim not to have gone further in the Champions League.

"When he left, OL made the semi-finals. When it was wrong with [Jose] Mourinho, he would say to me: 'I want to go back to Lyon.' I said to him: 'No, you're going to force it and you're going to get there', and he got there.

"It's in the back of his mind, I think it's possible. If he has legs and he thinks it's time to go and do something good, he'll come back.

"If he is not as a player, I see him returning to OL in another role perhaps. I know he really wants it."

Real Madrid's hunger to return from lockdown at their best is what has given them an advantage in the title race, Zinedine Zidane believes.

Madrid can win LaLiga for the first time in three seasons should they defeat Villarreal on Thursday, or if Barcelona drop points against Osasuna.

Los Blancos need only two points from their final two matches of the season to claim their 34th top-flight crown.

Zidane insists there is no complacency within his squad and lauded the desire with which his players returned with following the three-month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"No, not at all," Zidane said in a news conference when asked if his side already felt like champions.

"The beautiful thing we have is the energy we put in every day, day by day is what motivates us. The rest, we don't know what will happen.

"The players when they get here know the history of this club, what it is, what it wants, the ambition we always have.

"The particular thing about now is that after the confinement, when we returned to work, after staying home almost three months, the players wanted to do great things.

"You could see it in training. You could see it in games, but I see them in training, they trained phenomenally, they wanted to stay afterwards and that tells you everything."

Though his side require only two more points, due to their head-to-head record with Barca this term, Zidane is demanding victory.

"I would not want two draws. It is not what I prefer or not, it is that we are here for one thing, to think about tomorrow's game and win it," he added.

"It is what motivates us. We prepare for that. Villarreal knows how to play, it is a very difficult opponent, as always. I think it will be the most difficult of the last ones we have had."

Karim Benzema's sensational form has been a driving force in Madrid's title tilt, with the Frenchman having scored 19 LaLiga goals this season.

There have been suggestions Benzema should be in the running for this year's Ballon d'Or award and Zidane claimed every Madrid player could be worthy of the prize.

"In football, everyone can have a say. For me, my players are the best," Zidane said.

"Karim is not only this year, he has done very well for many years. The Ballon d'Or is won by only one, and everyone can comment, but for me all my players deserve it."

Zinedine Zidane has described Eden Hazard's predicament at Real Madrid as complicated after leaving the Belgium international as an unused substitute during Monday's 2-1 win at Granada.

Early goals from Ferland Mendy and Karim Benzema set up a victory that moved Madrid to within touching distance of LaLiga glory.

Hazard arrived from Chelsea for €100m before the start of the campaign but injury struggles – most notably a broken ankle – have seen him play a minimal part this term.

The 29-year-old has been restricted to 15 league appearances and has only featured for eight minutes since back-to-back starts against Real Mallorca and Espanyol at the end of last month.

After a ninth consecutive victory, Zidane told reporters Hazard's fitness was still not up to scratch.

"A player has to be in very, very, very good shape to play and he's not fully okay," he said.

"The situation is a little bit complicated, but I hope that he can be 100 per cent fit on Thursday and help the team. That's what he wants."

Madrid host Villarreal on Thursday, knowing victory for themselves or anything less than three points for Barcelona will see them crowned champions.

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane insisted the LaLiga trophy is still not secured after the league leaders took another giant step towards the title.

Madrid are one win away from dethroning two-time defending champions Barcelona following Monday's 2-1 victory at Granada.

Ferland Mendy's first goal for Madrid and Karim Benzema's strike restored Los Blancos' four-point advantage over bitter rivals Barca with two matches remaining.

Madrid can clinch just a second league title in eight seasons at home to Villarreal on Thursday, but Zidane avoided championship talk post-match.

"We had a very good first half, impressive with the ball," Zidane told reporters afterwards.

"The second half wasn't as good but that's because our opponents played.

"To get somewhere in LaLiga, you have to suffer a bit and we came through it was a team.

"We have to be proud of the team. We're got two games left and we haven't won anything yet.

"That's the reality, but there are six points left. When we started the season, we wanted to win LaLiga, but it hasn't arrived just yet."

Madrid raced out to a 2-0 lead after just 16 minutes through Mendy and Benzema, but the visitors were made to work by Granada.

Mendy slammed home a brilliant finish from a tight angle in the 10th minute to become the 21st Madrid player to score in LaLiga this season, while Benzema increased his top-flight tally this term to 19 six minutes later.

Granada's Darwin Machis reduced the deficit five minutes into the second half, however, Madrid survived to close in on the LaLiga crown.

"I shouted because I was happy and because you suffer in football," Zidane, who was heard screaming following the final whistle, added. "It was normal to shout because they were three very important points.

"I shouted to tell my players that they'd have an impressive game. I'm happy for them."

Real Madrid moved one win away from LaLiga glory with a hard-fought -1 victory over Granada at Los Carmenes on Monday. 

Goals from Ferland Mendy – his first for the club – and Karim Benzema restored Madrid's four-point advantage over Barcelona with two games remaining. 

Mendy slammed home a brilliant finish from a tight angle to become the 21st Madrid player to score in LaLiga this season, while Benzema increased his top-flight tally this term to 19 as he made it 2-0.

Although Darwin Machis pulled one back five minutes into the second half, Madrid survived a couple of late scares to make it nine straight victories and edge closer to a 34th LaLiga title. 

Mendy won the penalty that put Madrid on their way to a 2-0 victory over Deportivo Alaves last time out and he got them off to a great start again, beating Victor Diaz for pace and smashing into the roof of the net from an acute angle in the 10th minute. 

Benzema doubled the advantage following a swift counter-attacking move six minutes later, the Frenchman allowed time and space by Diaz to shift the ball onto his right foot and pick out the far corner.

Granada switched to a back four and quickly tested Thibaut Courtois, but Domingos Duarte's header was kept out of the bottom-right corner. 

Benzema had a powerful shot tipped over by Rui Silva before half-time and Granada reduced the deficit shortly after the restart, Machis firing under Courtois after Yangel Herrera caught Casemiro in possession. 

Zinedine Zidane responded to Granada's improvement by sending Rodrygo and Marco Asensio on for Federico Valverde and Isco just after the hour mark, with Madrid sitting back and consolidating. 

Substitute Antonin had an acrobatic volley kept out by Courtois before Ramon Azeez saw his 85th-minute effort blocked on the line by returning captain Sergio Ramos, ensuring the visitors secured three valuable points. 
 

What does it mean? Zidane shows adaptability 

Madrid moved away from their traditional 4-3-3, with Valverde, Luka Modric and Isco in a narrow line behind Benzema. Having five midfielders in the starting line-up enabled them to quickly take control of possession and evade Granada's press and counter-attacking threat. 

The hosts got more joy after coach Diego Martinez moved away from his back five, but Zidane introduced Rodrygo and Asensio to retain an attacking threat as Madrid focused on stifling their opponents. 

Brilliant Benzema 

The captain's armband may have returned to Ramos but Benzema led by example from the off, chasing back early on despite Madrid's wealth of midfielders. He took his goal sublimely and went close to a second before half-time. 

Double Diaz faults 

Diaz was slow to close Mendy down and was then beaten far too easily on the opener, while he was punished for giving Benzema ample time and space to pick his spot. He was replaced by Antonio Puertas at half-time. 

What's next? 

Madrid will be looking to clinch just a second title in eight seasons at home to Villarreal on Thursday, when Granada travel to relegation-threatened Real Mallorca. 

Zinedine Zidane sent a warm birthday message to James Rodriguez by insisting the Colombian could play a part in Real Madrid's future – but then left him out of his latest squad.

James, signed amid Galactico fanfare six years ago, has become almost a forgotten man with the Spanish giants, playing only a minor role in this season's LaLiga title charge.

His 78-minute run-out against Real Sociedad in June was a first LaLiga appearance for James since October, and he has not played since.

There are reports Madrid consider James superfluous to their needs and will look to sell him at the end of this campaign, with Manchester United among the clubs linked with him.

Zidane struck a different tone in his news conference ahead of Monday's match against Granada, even wishing James well on the attacking midfielder's birthday.

However, by later leaving James out of his 23-man squad for the Granada trip, the head coach's actions perhaps proved more telling than his words. 

"He is important, and he is ours," Zidane told reporters.

"He is 29 years old today and I congratulate him. It is true some play more and others less, but I will not look down on any player.

"Everyone brings something to the team. I can count on all of those I have."

James has just a year left on his Madrid contract and his influence has greatly diminished.

Before this season, he spent two years on loan at Bayern Munich, winning a pair of Bundesliga titles but not doing enough to secure a permanent transfer.

Signed from Monaco by Madrid in 2014 after a stellar World Cup, James was initially given the coveted number 10 shirt but now wears number 16, with his eight league appearances this season amounting to just 419 minutes on the pitch.

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