Santiago Solari backs Isco to fill Gareth Bale void as Real Madrid prepare to face Real Sociedad
Welsh forward picked up a calf injury against Villarreal as the European champions aim to climb up the Primera Liga table
Real Madrid manager Santiago Solari has played down fears over Gareth Bale's latest injury, insisting the calf problem is "not too serious".
Bale was forced off at half-time during Madrid's 2-2 draw against Villarreal on Wednesday, and underwent tests on Saturday to determine the extent of the injury.
Madrid released a brief statement to reveal Bale had been "diagnosed with a grade one soleus muscle injury in his left leg" but gave no indication on the length of time he is expected to be on the sidelines.
"We think the injury is not too serious," Solari said at a press conference on Saturday. "He will go through tests today and we all hope he is back with us quickly."
Expectations were high for Bale this season following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, but his rhythm has been disrupted by fitness issues.
The Wales forward has made 22 appearances for Madrid this term but has completed 90 minutes only five times.
Bale's latest injury comes soon after his starring role in Madrid's successful Fifa Club World Cup title defence in the UAE last month where he scored a hat-trick in the semi-final. He was later named player of the tournament.
Bale's absence could mean a reprieve for Spanish playmaker Isco, who has been out of favour since Solari took charge but replaced the Welshman against Villarreal.
Madrid host Real Sociedad in the Primera Liga on Sunday and, speaking ahead of the game, Solari seemed positive about the prospect of Isco coming in.
"Isco is so good he can play wherever, in any position on the pitch," Solari said. "Sometimes it´s not all about speed. You can be effective with your creativity, imagination and technical ability. Every player has different characteristics."
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The draw against Villarreal leaves Madrid fourth in the table, seven points adrift of leaders Barcelona. Madrid have 30 points, which is the club's lowest total after 17 games in 13 years.
Solari, however, insisted "you cannot underestimate draws", and added: "The important thing is to keep climbing the table. To get from ninth to fourth has been difficult and we want to keep going. La Liga is long and in times of adversity, you see character."
Marcelo has been among those criticised, with the defender at fault for Villarreal's opening goal in midweek. He has returned after suffering a hamstring injury in October.
"Marcelo has had a very difficult injury and it has not been easy for him," Solari said. "He is getting his rhythm back and he is a fundamental player for the team and the club. Over a season you can have good and bad games, but we must look after Marcelo."
As well as Bale, Marco Asensio, Marcos Llorente and Mariano Diaz are all recovering from injuries and expected to miss the game on Sunday.
Updated: January 5, 2019 03:22 PM