BARCELONA Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said on Tuesday he would not risk Gareth Bale in Wednesday's Champions League match against in-form Napoli, as he seeks to ease the Wales international back into action following a lengthy layoff.
Bale returned to full training on Sunday for the first time since damaging ankle ligaments against Sporting Lisbon on Nov. 22, but Zidane said the last 16 tie against the Serie A outfit had come too soon.
"This is the first week he has trained with us and he's doing well. He's recovered, he's not feeling any discomfort and you'll see if he makes it to the squad on the weekend" for the match against Espanyol, Zidane said on Tuesday.
"He's had almost three months out, we have to take things very slowly with him," he told a news conference.
Zidane also lavished praise on opposite number Maurizio Sarri, whose Napoli side head to the Spanish capital on an 18-game unbeaten run, bidding to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time.
"He's a very good coach, his teams play very good football and he's got some excellent results which means he is working very well," said Zidane.
"In a two-legged tie the aim is always to keep a clean sheet and that's our message. But beyond that I want us to be really focused. They will play directly because they are fast and intense. They might get behind our defensive line but we have to make sure it doesn't happen very often."
An estimated 10,000 Napoli supporters are in Madrid for the first leg of the tie, the team's first Champions League knock-out tie since 2012. Club great Diego Maradona has been invited to attend the game by Real president Florentino Perez.
"Maradona was one of the best ever players but I'm more concerned about the players that will be on the pitch than Diego, although we will use our weapons to win the game," said Zidane.
Real midfielder Luka Modric added: "We are very happy to have Diego here but thank God he won't be playing. Napoli are in great form, no-one's beaten them for a long time, but we're playing at home and we believe we can win."
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Jon Boyle)