Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane: La Liga will be tougher this year
Zinedine Zidane said this year will be even "more difficult" as Real Madrid begin their defence of the La Liga title on Sunday evening at Deportivo La Coruna.
Zidane's side are heavy favourites to retain the Spanish championship for the first time in a decade, especially after this week's 5-1 Spanish Super Cup victory over a Barcelona side still reeling from Neymar's exit to Paris Saint-Germain.
Atletico Madrid, who are moving into a new stadium at the Wanda Metropolitano, have a strong squad but finished 15 points off the pace last season, while no other team has the squad depth or financial resources to realistically challenge the top three over 38 games.
After starting his news conference ahead of their opening game by offering a message of condolence to the families of all those affected by this week's terrorist attack in Barcelona, Zidane recalled winning last year's title in the final game and said he expected things to be even tougher this time around.
"We are in a very good moment and must take advantage of it," he said. "Winning La Liga last year was the best thing that happened to me in my career. We know it is very difficult to win, and taking it in the last game is something exceptional.
"Such consistency in the team is something fantastic, so the feeling is different from any other trophy. This year we want to do it again. We can always improve -- that is the objective for us. We know this year will be more difficult."
Madrid have won their last nine games against Deportivo in all competitions, and won 6-2 at Riazor last term, but Zidane said his team must make a "tremendous effort" in each and every fixture.
"They are a good team with good players and good fans," he said. "Every opponent always wants to win against Madrid. It is an important game for every team, but we think the same ourselves. If you want to win a league, which will be very long, you must start well.
"Every game will require a tremendous effort from us. We must try and begin in the best way possible."
Madrid travel without the injured Jesus Vallejo and Mateo Kovacic, and with Cristiano Ronaldo banned after an appeals committee upheld a four-game additional ban for pushing the referee during the Super Cup.
With Marca on Saturday morning claiming that the Portugal captain felt "crucified" by his recent treatment in Spain, Zidane said the club would continue to appeal to the authorities to try to get the Portugal captain back as soon as possible.
"I never complain about the referees, never," he said. "The other day I said the suspension was very long, five games for what happened. We appealed, and we will appeal again. We will do everything we can do, but we are focused on tomorrow's game now."
Gareth Bale is expected to start at Riazor after being rested for Wednesday's Super Cup second leg at the Bernabeu, and Zidane said the Wales international was ready for a "big year" having finally put all his injury issues behind him.
"Gareth is very good, training consistently, which is the best for him," he said. "He had various small issues last year, then the four-month injury. He is much better now.
"Preseason training in America went well for him, he is very good physically, with no niggles. I hope this is a big year for him, and for the team."
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