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Bale to return against Espanyol, confirms Zidane

Gareth Bale will make his long-awaited return to action against Espanyol, Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has confirmed.

The Wales international has not played since the Champions League win over Sporting CP on November 22, when he suffered an ankle injury.

It had been hoped that Bale, who returned to first-team training last weekend, would be available for the clash with Napoli this week but Zidane opted to grant him extra time to prove his fitness.

And the former Tottenham star will be back on the pitch at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, although it remains unlikely that he will start.

"Bale will be in the squad and the idea is for him to have some minutes," Zidane told a news conference on Friday. "He's excited to be with us and we're happy to have him, although we still have two or three who have injuries. Nearly everyone is ready.

"Bale is an important player. We know his quality, his speed, the damage he can cause the opposition. I'm happy to have him but he's even happier to be back with the team and ready to play."

Captain Sergio Ramos is unlikely to be involved after picking up a knock in the 3-1 win over Napoli, but Zidane expects him to return to full training at the beginning of next week.

There is no place again for Fabio Coentrao, who has been sidelined since January 7.

"The most important thing is that the players are at 100 per cent when they're going to play," Zidane said. "Fabio still has some discomfort - I hope it will be for a few days but, after so much time out injured, when you come back you think you're ready but you have a small problem.

"Ramos is just a knock, there's no injury. He'll be with us on Monday.

"I manage the dressing room in the best way possible because everyone is very good, they train amazingly and it's difficult when you have 24 of them.

"Everyone is important, with games every three days we have to rotate and sometimes we need some freshness. The ones who play less bring that freshness and we're going to keep doing it until the end of the season. The squad is well prepared."

A victory for Madrid would take them four points clear of second-place Barcelona at the top of LaLiga with a game in hand over the champions.