Real Madrid CF flew to Manchester yesterday ahead of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 second leg clash against Manchester City. Gareth Bale is notably absent from the 24-man squad and Zinedine Zidane has told reporters to stop asking questions about the player as the reasons behind his exclusion are "personal."

"It is a private conversation, but I can only tell you that he preferred not to play, and the rest is between him and me," said Zidane, in a press briefing ahead of the match. Marca shared that the Frenchman emphasised once again that he has utmost respect for the player and vice versa. "In the end many things are said and we have a respectful relationship between coach and player," he said.

The relationship between Zidane and Bale has been the subject of numerous speculations over the past couple of years, even before the coach took a hiatus away from the club. Despite obviously not being in Zidane's future plans, the club has been unable to secure a transfer deal for troubled star.

Despite his absence for the crucial round-of-16 match against City, it has been reported that Bale has every intention of seeing out the remaining two years of his contract at Real Madrid. In fact, even if he wished to leave, it would be impossible without taking a massive pay cut. Most football clubs, even the richest ones, are taking a big financial hit due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Gareth Bale
Real Madrid's Welsh forward Gareth Bale AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

With Bale's absence, Real Madrid fans will be happy to see that Eden Hazard is in the lineup. He had been suffering from a lingering injury but Zidane has assured that he has had enough time to recover and is fit to play. "It is true that he had a bit of discomfort at the end of the league [season], but now he is much better and I think he is well and confident,"said the coach.

Hazard was a blockbuster signing from Chelsea, but he has so far failed to prove his worth due to an injury-ridden campaign. It remains to be seen if he will step up in tonight's game. Real Madrid needs to overcome a 1-2 deficit after losing the first leg at home against City way back at the end of February.

Zinedine Zidane
Zidane is in his second spell as Real coach Photo: AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS