Zinedine Zidane: 'Real Madrid must come through this moment'
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane admitted "this is not a brilliant period for us" but maintained the three points were all important after their hard fought 2-1 La Liga win at Alaves on Saturday.
On his first La Liga start, Dani Ceballos opened the scoring on 10 minutes with a neat 15-yard finish as Zidane's side dominated proceedings. The summer signing then made it 2-1 just before the break from the edge of the area, moments after Alaves captain Manu Garcia had surprisingly equalised by heading in Munir El Haddadi's cross.
The second half was a closer affair, with Cristiano Ronaldo twice denied by the post, and Alaves substitute Alfonso Pedraza also hitting the woodwork twice at the other end.
With the defending champions having climbed to fourth in the table, Zidane told his postgame news conference that Madrid had suffered at times, and again lamented their inability to put away the many chances they created.
"It was not easy, this is not a brilliant period for us," Zidane said. "But we got the three points, and will have much better days in how we play. But we must congratulate the lads, as they make an effort every three days.
"Today we could have lost points, they had chances too, although less than we did. We deserved to win, but this is football and for us two goals is not many with all the chances we had. We must come through this moment. We will play better other days."
Ronaldo had six of those missed chances, making it 18 shots in total without scoring in the two La Liga games after his late start due to suspension. Zidane denied that the Portugal captain was uncomfortable being fielded at centre-forward, with regular No. 9 Karim Benzema currently injured.
"It is always the same when Cristiano does not score, you ask questions," Zidane said. "He wanted to score today, but he is relaxed about this, the season is very long and in the end he will make the difference.
"He can play in many different positions. Today he played up front on his own, with Lucas [Vazquez] and Marco [Asensio] on the sides. But the ball did not want to go in for him."
Replacing the injured Toni Kroos in midfield, Ceballos took both his chances very well, and his boss said the youngster had shown he could be relied upon when needed.
"I am happy for Dani," Zidane said. "He showed he was ready to play for us. Besides the two goals, he also played a good game He is a kid who wants to learn, and he will get more chances. We got the three points thanks to his two goals."
Zidane admitted it was unlikely that full-back Theo Hernandez will return from a shoulder injury in time for Tuesday's Champions League group game at Borussia Dortmund, meaning Dani Carvajal would continue his record as the only Madrid player to start each game so far this term.
"I don't believe Theo will be back," he said. "It is a lot of games for Dani, but he must put up with it, as we have a lot of people injured."
Saturday's victory at Mendizorroza was Madrid's 12th in succession on the road in La Liga -- equalling a record set by Barcelona in 2010-11. By contrast Zidane's side have been beaten by Real Betis and drawn with Levante and Valencia already this season, however he denied there was any mental difference in how they approached games home and away.
"We like playing at the Bernabeu," he said. "It's true when you look the three [recent] games it was not as expected. But this is football. Now we will think about resting for Tuesday's game. Next weekend we have a game at home against Espanyol to change that dynamic."
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