Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane denied that his team had already given up on La Liga after they lost more ground in the title race with a 1-0 defeat at Espanyol on Tuesday evening.
Thinking of the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 at Paris Saint-Germain, coach Zinedine Zidane heavily rotated his squad for the trip to Cornella El-Prat, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo at home and Karim Benzema and Dani Carvajal on the bench.
He then saw his team struggle to control the game before conceding a 93rd-minute winner to Espanyol striker Gerard Moreno.
A fifth La Liga defeat of the season left last year’s champions third in the table — 14 points behind leaders Barcelona and seven off second-place Atletico Madrid with an extra game played than both their rivals.
Varane, speaking after the game, said the Madrid badge demanded that players always give 100 percent no matter what the situation.
“We always have to give our best when we pull this shirt on,” Varane said. “We can’t give up on La Liga. We have to show the same drive. We’re not looking at the points. We have to focus on the games and try to win them because that’s what this badge demands of us. You can never write us off.”
Madrid will go to Paris on Tuesday defending a 3-1 first-leg lead and with their task potentially made easier by an injury to PSG’s Neymar, which could reportedly require an operation and leave him sidelined for at least two months.
Varane said the slip at Espanyol would not affect his side’s preparations for that fixture and he expected a tough task whether or not Neymar was available.
“We always want to win. This won’t have any effect on the PSG game,” he said. “Regardless of whether Neymar plays or not, it’ll be tough because they’ll come out all guns blazing. We’re ready for it and will continue with our preparations.”
Defender Nacho Fernandez also said that Neymar’s injury would not affect Madrid’s preparation.
“We’ll not know anything until the day of the match,” Nacho said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. We always want every player to be fit and not have problems. Until the day of the match, we’ll not know if he’ll play or not.”
Although Madrid have already dropped 27 points in 26 league games this season and were eliminated from the Copa del Rey by neighbours Leganes, Nacho said the team could still approach their Champions League test with confidence.
“It’s not normal,” he said. “We’re used to winning titles. We’re still involved in a special competition, in the Champions League, and have to prepare for it and go into it full of confidence.”
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