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Zidane reassures Morata: This is a marathon

Zinedine Zidane has told Alvaro Morata he still has an important role to play at Real Madrid this season.

Morata returned to the Santiago Bernabeu in June after Madrid exercised their buy-back option to prise him away from Juventus, with whom he developed into one of Europe's most feared number nines.

He started the season as Zidane's first choice in attack, but has subsequently lost his place in the team to the returning Karim Benzema.

Zidane was quizzed about the Spain international at his news conference prior to Sunday's home game with Athletic Bilbao and stressed he remains a key player as they chase success on four fronts.

He said: "I really appreciate Morata, I am very fond of him and I talk to him.

"Of course, he will have some minutes [on Sunday] but this is a marathon, there's still a long way to go and he will play a part in the team's success as will the rest of his team-mates."

Zidane rejected the offer of a debate over his forward options and insisted he values Morata, Benzema and understudy Mariano.

He added: "They [Morata and Benzema] are two great players, two great strikers. And there is also Mariano.

"So we have cover up front. We play with Karim as a sole striker and he's an important player. I don't think there is a debate, I think all three are important."

Despite having so many options, Zidane says his team selections rarely cause him a headache.

"I wouldn't call it a headache but I need to have a lot of time mulling over who to pick with a game every three days," he said.

"It's only normal but it's not really a headache as such."

Midfield anchorman Casemiro was a surprise call-up to the Brazil squad on Friday, despite not playing for Madrid since fracturing his fibula against Espanyol last month.

Zidane seemed bemused at his inclusion, stating: "He's been called up and we have to keep a close eye on him to see how he evolves. Let's see.

"First he has to recover from his injury, let's see if he joins up with the national team.

"He's with us at the moment but I think it's complicated to say he's going or not going because he's yet to sprint or do any running. We'll have to wait and see."

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