MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid wants some respect.
The 13-time Champions League winner has rarely been talked about as a top contender this season, and coach Zinedine Zidane and his players don’t hide the chip on their shoulders entering Tuesday’s quarterfinal against Liverpool.
“Yes, I think it’s true that we have been (undervalued),” Zidane said Monday ahead of the first leg in Madrid. “We deserve more. I have a lot of faith in my squad. I know what it is capable of.”
After consecutive eliminations in the round of 16 of the Champions League, Madrid lost some of its powerhouse status in the European competition despite winning three straight titles before that. And even after it made it to the last eight this season, it hasn’t attracted a lot of attention as a top favorite for the title.
“We can’t change that,” Zidane said. “All we can do is keep working hard. This team can overcome many things, it’s what is good about this club. We never take anything for granted. As long as there’s hope, there’s life. We are alive in both competitions and we will keep fighting and working hard until the end.”
Madrid was also counted out of the Spanish league until recently, but it enters the competition’s final stretch only three points behind leader Atlético Madrid and still in contention to repeat as champion.
“Zidane has made it clear that we have the right to be respected,” Real Madrid defender Nacho Fernández said. “We deserve to be respected and we deserve the opportunity to fight for the Spanish league and for the Champions League.”
Madrid’s slump in the Champions League coincided with the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, which happened after Madrid beat Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final.
“Since that final Liverpool has won a Champions League title and we lost Cristiano Ronaldo, but there’s not a lot of difference between the teams,” Fernández said. “We’ve already shown our worth over the years.”
Nacho will likely replace the injured Sergio Ramos in central defense at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium on Tuesday.
Zidane will also be without Eden Hazard. The playmaker, who knows Liverpool well from his time at Chelsea in the Premier League, is not fully fit following another of his many injuries this season.
“It’s important that he is at ease with his return and that he recovers fully,” Zidane said. “We are not going to take any risks. If the player is well, we want him in the team. We will take things slowly with Eden.”
Zidane said Liverpool remains a dangerous opponent despite its recent struggles in the Premier League.
“Liverpool is a very complete team,” Zidane said. “It is very strong and very solid. It plays well as a team.”
The second leg will be on April 14 at Anfield.
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