Cristiano Ronaldo has been left frustrated by the departures of Alvaro Morata, Pepe and James Rodriguez from Real Madrid. Photo: Tim Ireland/AP

MADRID – Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane shrugged off reports of a dressing room rift between captain Sergio Ramos and World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of the derby clash at Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Both sides from the capital already trail La Liga leaders Barcelona by eight points, with Ronaldo complaining earlier this month that the departures of Alvaro Morata, Pepe and James Rodriguez had left Real’s squad lacking experience compared to the one that claimed a La Liga and Champions League double last season.

Ramos later described those comments as “opportunistic”, and Madrid-based sports daily Marca reported this week on the rising tension between Real’s two most decorated players.

“The good thing is I can say truthfully that I have two players that will go down in the history of this club in Sergio and Cristiano. Both of them know what is at stake, and they respect each other a lot,” Zidane said on Saturday.

“They are intelligent people. They have done a lot together, won a lot together and if now and again one person thinks one way and someone else another way, there is no problem.

“Everyone has their opinion. The important thing is that things are resolved inside (the club) and it is all resolved. There is no problem between Cristiano and Sergio.”

Barcelona could even stretch their advantage at the top to 11 points before kickoff in the first ever derby at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano (9.45pm SA time) with victory earlier in the day at Leganes (5.15pm SA time).

However, Zidane resisted labelling Saturday’s clash as a must-win for Real’s title ambitions.

“Nothing will change if Barcelona win,” added the Frenchman. “We know what we have to do. We need to perform well and play at full intensity for 90 minutes.”

Zidane will again have to do without the injured Gareth Bale, but was more optimistic on the Welshman’s chances of returning before the end of the year than seemed likely when he was diagnosed with a thigh problem last week.

Bale has been sidelined since September by just the latest in a series of injury setbacks that have stalled his Madrid career.

“I feel sorry for him because he wants to be fit, to help the team, and he is the first one to be annoyed by it,” said Zidane.

“It is just a matter of days, and hopefully next week he will be fully recovered and fit for the rest of the season.”