Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has hailed Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola as “the best coach in the world”.
Zidane’s words of praise follow the Champions League draw earlier this week that pitted Real against City, with the first leg of the last-16 tie to be played at the Bernabeu in late February.
It is a repeat of the 2016 semi-final that Zidane’s Real won 1-0, with the Frenchman in the early stages of his first spell in charge, and just two months prior to former Barcelona boss Guardiola’s arrival at the Etihad Stadium.
“It will be special to face him,” said Zidane, at a press conference ahead of his side’s LaLiga clash with Athletic Bilbao at the Bernabeu on Sunday.
“I played many times against him. I respected him as a player, and now as a coach. I think he is the best coach in the world. He has shown it throughout his career.”
Zidane’s own achievements at Real are far from shabby, and despite a shaky end to last season soon after the start of his second tenure, this term he has Los Blancos again challenging on all fronts.
In particular, Real are pushing Barcelona in LaLiga, highlighted by the goalless draw at the Nou Camp on Wednesday as the Catalan club dropped points on home soil for the first time this campaign.
As to whether winning the league was a priority this season, Zidane said: “For us the priority is day to day.
— Real Madrid C.F.⚽ (@realmadrid) December 20, 2019
“It’s LaLiga because it’s day to day, but it’s fighting things until the end. For us the important thing is to work well every day. Lately we are working very well, and we will continue like this next year.”
Bilbao striker Inaki Williams believes his side can chalk up a famous victory as the club have not won a LaLiga game at the Bernabeu for almost 15 years.
Speaking at a press conference, Williams said: “We are aware that Madrid are in a good spell. During El Clasico with Barcelona they had several chances to win.
“But we are also good. We have a really solid defence, and we will certainly have our chances because they allow others to play.
— Athletic Club (@AthleticClub) December 20, 2019
“If we take advantage of them, we will be close to getting a good result at the Bernabeu. I’m excited to play there.
“You know a lot of people will be watching the game all over the world and I am looking forward to it, to winning the last match of the year.
“We must pay attention to our performance, go for them and put pressure on their side of the field to look for chances, and to take advantage of them to score.”
Zidane goes into the game without a quintet of key players through injury in Eden Hazard, James Rodriguez, Marcelo, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez, while Casemiro serves a one-match ban.
Bilbao right-back Ander Capa is also suspended, with strikers Iker Muniain and Aritz Aduriz out injured, alongside club captain Oscar De Marcos who faces three months out after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle on Friday.