Xabi Alonso 'has no doubts' about Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema's quality
Former Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso says that "nobody can doubt" the quality of Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, and backed the two under-fire stars to come good over the course of the season.
Despite Madrid having won the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup and La Liga in recent months, Bale and Benzema were both whistled by the Bernabeu crowd for missing chances as Zinedine Zidane's side struggled to a 2-2 draw against Valencia last Sunday.
That led to renewed speculation that former Tottenham winger Bale could return to the Premier League before the summer transfer window shuts, but he appears sure to remain at the club where he has won 10 trophies including three Champions Leagues since arriving in summer 2013.
Speaking to Marca as he attended Wednesday's UEFA Elite Club Coaches Forum in Nyon, Alonso said that an early season dip in form did not mean that players who had delivered so much in the past should be questioned.
"They are top players and nobody can doubt what they have done before," he said. "The season is very long. We have just played two games. I have no doubts about Karim, or Gareth, or any other player as they will all be important."
Alonso said he expected Zidane to continue to carefully introduce 21-year-old Marco Asensio into the Madrid set-up, even as some pundits call for him to now replace Bale as an automatic starter.
"[Asensio] is taking it all naturally," he said. "Sergio [Ramos] and the others will help him a lot. Bit by bit he will get more prominence, but without burning him out. This is a moment for him to grow, to continue his development. He is taking giant steps, and each day is a more important member of the squad."
Alonso was a teammate of Bale and Benzema as Madrid won the 2014 "Decima" Champions League, and said it looked like their current dominance of the European scene was set to continue.
"Madrid are now the reference point in Europe and the world, without doubt," Alonso said. "If we look at how they have been playing these four years, and the health of the team, it looks like it can last some years yet. You never know how far they can go, but the feelings they transmit are stupendous.
"Zidane's great strength is he has known how to manage everything, how to have them all motivated. They even won La Liga, where they had not done well recently. They are going in a very good direction."
Asked if the current side could go on and match the team of the 1950s and 60s which won six European Cups in 10 years, Alonso said the feeling at the club remained very positive.
"They have three of the last four, which is not bad," he said. "Between 'La Novena' [in 2002] and 'La Decima'  it was very tough for us. Now all Madridismo is very excited and the feeling is that they can achieve more. The other teams will keep pushing, but Real Madrid are on top at the moment, and with young players, who are keep picking up experience."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan