'James wanted to be left out' - Zidane says Rodriguez didn't want to be picked for Real Madrid's win at Athletic Club

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has claimed James Rodriguez wanted to be left out of the Primera Division leaders’ fixture against Athletic Club on Sunday.

Despite the absence of the Colombian, Madrid won the match 1-0, taking the victory thanks to a Sergio Ramos penalty that came after the kick was awarded following a VAR review.

James has been strongly linked with a move away from the Bernabeu this summer, having featured only 14 times for the capital side in all competitions this season, and speculation is set to mount in the wake of Zidane’s words.

“He wanted to be left out because of his own reasons,” Zidane told the media after a victory that ensured his side opened up a seven-point advantage at the summit of the standings ahead of rivals Barcelona, who have a game extra to play.

“The reasons are between us and I’m not going to tell you any more.”

Meanwhile, after Ramos scored his third penalty in two weeks, all of which have been decisive in Madrid victories, Zidane responded in a frustrated manner to claims that Los Blancos are benefitting from decisions from the match officials.

“I'm tired of hearing that we won because of referees,” he said. “It's not going to change, but the players deserve respect. Nobody is going to take our minds off our goal.

“I like our strength more than anything. We are showing solidity and balance when we lose the ball and we're doing very well. We've lacked a spark in attack and we can improve, but our defensive strength is so important.”

Eight points from the last four games will be enough to seal the title for Madrid, and while a first domestic crown since 2016-17 is within touching distance, nothing is being taken for granted.

“Until it's mathematically won, we cannot relax or think about the title,” the 1998 World Cup winner said.

“It's a very important victory, a hard-fought game with a lot of intensity.”

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