MADRID (Reuters) – Real Madrid forward James Rodriguez is set to start against Espanyol in Sunday’s La Liga clash with Gareth Bale injured but coach Zinedine Zidane wants him to do more defensive work.
It has been a disappointing season for Rodriguez after an impressive debut campaign in which he established himself as an important component of the side, scoring 17 goals.
He did not have a good relationship with former coach Rafa Benitez stemming from his decision to take a full holiday after the Copa America and not report back early for pre-season training.
Rodriguez’s season has also been affected by injury which has caused him to miss 11 games and he has received negative press over his reported enjoyment of the Madrid nightlife.
He also failed to stop for police after speeding on his way to training early this year.
The arrival of Zidane did not bring an immediate turnaround in fortune for Rodriguez with the Frenchman preferring Isco in midfield, and he made it clear from the start that he aimed to continue with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Bale in attack.
A calf injury for Bale opened the door for Rodriguez and although he failed to shine in the draw against Real Betis, he is the likely option to start against Espanyol.
“He is a very good player and has a lot of talent but along with this he has to do his work in defence like all the players,” Zidane told a news conference on Saturday.
“We will make a decision on whether James starts tomorrow. Gareth is doing well physically and is recovering so next week he should be with the squad.”
After winning his first two games in charge with the team scoring 10 goals in the process, Zidane suffered his first setback when Real drew 1-1 at Betis last weekend. It left them third in La Liga, four points behind leaders Barcelona, who also have a game in hand.
“It is true it was a blow for us to drop two points and we deserved more than a point from the game but in football you need to take the chances that you make,” the Frenchman said.
(Reporting by Tim Hanlon in Barcelona, editing by Ed Osmond)