Real Madrid positive over Cristiano Ronaldo, but will he be fit enough for UCL final?
MADRID -- Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane's certainty that Cristiano Ronaldo's recovery skills mean he will be "150 percent" ready for the Champions League final against Liverpool on May 26 should ease concerns among fans who saw their team's talisman substituted at half-time of the weekend's Clasico.
However, Zidane's vagueness about whether Ronaldo will be able to play against Villarreal in his team's final 2017-18 game in La Liga a week before the Champions League showpiece suggests that the Portugal captain could well start in Kiev having not kicked a ball competitively for three weeks.
Madrid have yet to make any official club statement on the extent of the ankle injury picked up as Ronaldo scored for Madrid after just 15 minutes of the 2-2 draw against Barcelona, and which he carried for the remainder of the first half before leaving at the break.
Zidane admitted after that game at Camp Nou that the 33-year-old was "worried" about the injury, as the ankle joint had swollen up, and that tests would take place back in the Spanish capital on Monday.
No details of these examinations have been made public, although local media have been briefed that the issue is not serious. Madrid are usually wary of giving too much information with their official medical statements and were always unlikely to make any concrete predictions in this case.
At Tuesday's post-training news conference, Zidane was keen to talk up Ronaldo's "motivation" and "ambition" and said it was "incredible" that Ronaldo was already walking on the affected joint.
A possible concern is that Ronaldo has had trouble with his right ankle before, including an operation in July 2008 when he was still with Manchester United. After moving to Madrid the following summer, he injured the same joint in a Champions League group game against Marseille, rushed back to play a crucial World Cup qualifier for Portugal but had to be substituted, and then missed his country's playoff win against Bosnia-Herzegovina. He did not play again until returning in a Clasico two months later.
This time, it's the summer's World Cup which is looming, and Portugal's opening Group B game is on June 15 against Spain in Sochi.
Ronaldo was likely to be rested for Wednesday's La Liga trip to Sevilla anyway, in line with a policy agreed to with Zidane that has seen the No. 7 play just two of the team's past six away fixtures in La Liga. But he will want to feature in at least one of their final two domestic matches -- at home to Celta Vigo on Saturday evening and on the final day at Villarreal on May 19 -- to get him physically ready for the Champions League final.
Managing the minutes domestically of Madrid's record all-time scorer has paid off in the Champions League: Ronaldo has 15 goals in his 10 games so far this season, including three strikes in the round of 16 against Paris Saint-Germain and another three in the quarterfinals against Juventus -- including that incredible overhead kick.
Those displays against PSG and Juve again underlined Ronaldo's importance to Madrid on the biggest occasions, especially with the forward now usually playing much closer to goal and focusing on converting chances created by his teammates rather than setting them up himself.
However, Zidane's side still progressed past Bayern Munich in the semifinals without Ronaldo finding the net. Instead it was Marcelo, Asensio and Karim Benzema who stepped up on those occasions.
Should Real Madrid's worst fears be realised and Ronaldo be ruled out of the final against Liverpool, Asensio is the most likely to benefit with a starting spot. Benzema's recent return to form means he is also sure to be in the XI in Kiev.
Bale's equaliser against Barcelona on Sunday was another reminder of the Welshman's quality left boot, but Zidane appears to have decided that tactically the team is better without him starting big games. Isco has not played since a shoulder injury picked up in the first leg in Munich, but he should return to action in La Liga this week and will likely play as a fourth midfielder against Jurgen Klopp's men.
Zidane's comments on Tuesday were clearly designed to nix any idea that Ronaldo will not make it for the final in Kiev. And it does seem likely that only a really severe setback will stop Ronaldo from starting against Liverpool. But whether Madrid's top scorer and key player will be capable of firing on all cylinders by that point is something only time will tell.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan