Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has said he does not believe Gareth Bale’s continuing injury problems are psychological.
Zidane confirmed that muscle problems will again rule Bale out against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, adding that he could not say when the Wales international winger would return.
Bale came back from two months on the sidelines in Tuesday’s Copa del Rey game at home to Fuenlabrada, but felt further pain in a calf muscle afterwards.
He has not trained with his teammates since amid reports of disagreements between the player and club medical staff about the exact problem.
Asked at Friday’s news conference whether Bale’s problems were psychological, Zidane said: “I don’t believe so.
“He has felt some pain, it is not much, and as he has been out for a long time it is difficult. I hope it is just a physical issue and that he just has a little problem and nothing more.
“I think he needs to train with the team, get into the team dynamic, and for me that is the most important. I hope he is back with us quickly.”
The coach suggested that Bale’s return date would be up to the player, saying: “He is very powerful and he needs to be right to play.
“He cannot feel pain. When this happens, we cannot take risks. Plus it is his calf muscle, like so many times before, and the doctors are looking for a solution to the problem.
“As I am a positive person, I do not think anything bad will happen. I have told Gareth that he will come through this.
“We will look after him until he feels well, as he is an important player and what he has done is phenomenal. It [his return] depends on him. I cannot give you a date. I hope it is next week. He is the first who wants to be with us.”
Club captain Sergio Ramos is set to return after a fortnight out with a broken nose, but attacker Marco Asensio remains sidelined with a thigh complaint.
“Sergio will be there,” Zidane said. “He is back with the group and feeling very good.”
Athletic have drawn two and lost three of their last five La Liga games and were knocked out of Copa del Rey by third tier Formentera, leading to pressure on coach Jose Angel Ziganda.
But Zidane said: “We expect a difficult game, we know this stadium, this team, but we are ready to play well.
“This has been a very good week. We are going there excited to play a good game.”
Athletic goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is a reported Madrid target, but Zidane rejected the idea that he would rather have him in his team than Keylor Navas.
“I have the best here,” he said. “Keylor is the best. I will be with him, with Kiko [Casilla], with those I have here.
“Kepa is a good goalkeeper, but he is not my goalkeeper. Later, we will see what happens in the transfer market.”
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