Gareth Bale will not be involved in Real Madrid's Champions League round of 16 trip to Roma due to a slower than expected recovery from his calf injury, reports say. Bale, 26, suffered the injury during Real's 5-1 win over Sporting Gijon on 17 January and was initially predicted to return for this weekend's La Liga clash against Athletic Bilbao.
However, a setback in his recovery means the Welshman is now certain to miss the trip to the Stadio Olimpico on 17 February. Spanish daily AS said Zidane was unwilling to risk Bale until he was fully fit, with the player already having suffered six calf injuries since arriving from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013.
The derby match against Atletico Madrid on 27 February is now being viewed as a more realistic target for Bale's return, which should allow him to play in the return leg against Roma on 8 March.
'Ronaldo is the best'
The setback in Bale's recovery is a major blow to Zidane, with the Champions League increasingly seen as the club's best shot at winning a major title this season. Real are four points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona, who have a game in hand, and were thrown out of the Copa del Rey in December for fielding an ineligible player.
Bale has scored 13 goals in 15 league appearances for Madrid this season, including a hat-trick in Zinedine Zidane's first game as club boss against Deportivo La Coruna.
Meanwhile, Zidane hailed Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player in the world ahead of Bale, Neymar and Lionel Messi. "Cristiano Ronaldo is the best," the Frenchman was reported as saying by the Independent. People can say what they like about Cristiano Ronaldo, but in his heart he's a good person. Messi is the rival and that rivalry is great for the footballing spectacle, it's what the fans want to see."