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Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane being cautious with Gareth Bale return

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is in no hurry to rush Gareth Bale back from the ankle injury that has kept him sidelined for more than two months.

Bale, 27, has been out since damaging tendons in his right ankle on Nov. 22, but is expected to return to action next month.

Zidane, however, does not want to put a timeframe on when exactly Madrid fans will see the Wales international back playing again.

"Gareth is going to take a little longer but he is already training on the field with his boots on and that's a good sign," Zidane told his club's official website. "We have to take it step by step and not rush him".

Bale is set to miss Madrid's Champions League round-of-16 first-leg clash with Napoli on Feb. 15, but could be fit in time for the return leg on March 7.

Zidane spoke after his team's 3-0 home triumph over Real Sociedad on Sunday that lifted Los Blancos four points clear of Barcelona and Sevilla at the top of the La Liga standings.

Madrid, who also have a game in hand, had won just one of their five previous games in all competitions before the weekend. Unlike Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, they will not have the distraction of the Copa del Rey to deal with over the next couple of weeks after their elimination from the competition at the hands of Celta Vigo.

"We have extended our lead," Zidane said. "Our opponents have dropped points and we're now four points in front. There'll be difficult times ahead but we must enjoy this victory now. We are going to have a full week to prepare first for La Liga and then the Champions League."

Zidane is hoping Luka Modric and James Rodriguez will recover in time for Sunday's La Liga game at Celta.

James has been out with a calf injury since Jan. 7, while Modric has missed Madrid's last two games with a hamstring problem.

"We hope to have Luka Modric back next week, but I can't say when. It's the same with James," Zidane said.