Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane is leaving Cristiano Ronaldo out of away games in order to keep his star man fresh for the fight for titles on all fronts.
Ronaldo sat out his fourth consecutive LaLiga away game at relegated Granada, as James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata hit first-half braces in a comfortable 4-0 win that keeps Madrid level with Barcelona at the summit.
Four-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo has hit back-to-back Champions League hat-tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid since last travelling away domestically to Athletic Bilbao in March.
And, with the return leg against Atleti in midweek, Zidane suggested he has a policy that is paying dividends.
Asked at a post-match news conference whether the 32-year-old was being left out of away games to give him a greater amount of rest, Zidane replied: “Yes.”
James scored his two goals inside 11 minutes against a beleaguered Granada backline who were as vulnerable as Zidane expected.
The Colombia playmaker’s future at Madrid has been a topic of debate throughout the season, with Zidane rarely seeing him as a first-choice starter, but his attitude won praise.
“James has always been committed, always there, trying to do the best possible, the same as the others,” said Zidane.
“Granada are in difficulties, and if we begin the game as we did it is normal that they will have more problems.
“When you score after two minutes, it makes the game easier. But not easy for Granada, when you’ve nothing to play for it is difficult.”
Zidane praised his team’s freshness after nine months of toil at home and abroad but urged them to be on their mettle despite holding a 3-0 advantage over Atleti before Wednesday’s second leg at the Vicente Calderon.
After that come games against Sevilla, Celta Vigo and Malaga, with the destiny of the title still in Madrid’s hands.
“Now we will relax, thinking about Wednesday, which is going to test us a lot more than tonight, and we are going to have to have a perfect game,” Zidane added.
“We are thinking about ourselves, thinking of winning. Three finals remain.”