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Gareth Bale to make Real Madrid return - Zinedine Zidane

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has confirmed that Gareth Bale is set to return from injury in Saturday's La Liga game at home to Espanyol, with Alvaro Morata also set to start the game.

However, Sergio Ramos will miss out after picking up a knock, while forward Karim Benzema, goalkeeper Keylor Navas and midfielder Luka Modric will all be rested after Wednesday's 3-1 Champions League round-of-16 first-leg win against Napoli.

Bale, who has not played since undergoing ankle surgery in late November, returned to training a full week ago, but was not risked in midweek.

But Zidane told a news conference after training on Friday at Valdebebas that the Wales international was ready to get back out on the pitch.

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"Bale is with us now, tomorrow he will be in the squad," Zidane said. "The idea we have, for sure, is that he gets minutes.

"We all know the quality he has, how important he is for our team with his pace and the damage he can do opponents. So we are happy, but most important is that he is very happy to be back with the team, very excited about returning to action."

Morata, rumoured to be unsettled due to a lack of playing time, is set to start his first game in any competition since a Copa del Rey clash at Sevilla over a month ago.

"I would not like that Alvaro [leaves], he is at home here," Zidane said "It is true that he has had few minutes, but he has had minutes.

"Less than Karim [Benzema], for sure, but tomorrow he will start the game. I know it will not be the last game he starts. He is the same as the others. Some players will always get more minutes than others."

Alvaro Morata has struggled to dislodge Karim Benzema from the Real Madrid team.

Club captain Ramos will not play against Espanyol, as he was substituted after taking a knock to his hip against Napoli and will be given more time to recover.

"It is just a bang, not an injury," Zidane said. "On Monday Sergio will be with us, with no problems."

Barcelona-based Espanyol have an awful record against Madrid, not scoring in 14 of the last 18 meetings, and were beaten 6-0 on their visit to the Bernabeu last season.

Zidane preferred to focus on the more recent form of a team who had won three consecutive La Liga games, before last weekend's 2-1 home reverse against Real Sociedad.

"Tomorrow's game is against an opponent who have been getting good results lately, and we know how difficult the game will be again," he said. "But it is the same every weekend, every three days. We are focused."

Zidane rejected the idea that Barcelona's 4-0 Champions League round of 16 first leg defeat at Paris Saint-Germain this week was a problem for Madrid, as it meant Luis Enrique's side would have less distractions in the title race.

"Nothing will change for us," he said. "We do not look at the other teams, just what we do ourselves. We saw a very strong PSG, and Barca a bit less, nothing else. But in football there is always a return leg to play. We all know that Barca are a very good team and can still do things in this competition."

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


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