Xabi Alonso back in Real starting XI
Ancelotti: Blatter should think before he speaks
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti is to name a much-changed starting XI for Saturday’s Primera Division game at struggling local rivals Rayo Vallecano.
Madrid are currently midway through a run of five games in 15 days, coming off last weekend’s Clasico defeat in Barcelona and Wednesday’s helter-skelter 7-3 win over Sevilla, and with a Champions League trip to Juventus coming next Tuesday, quickly followed by Real Sociedad at home in La Liga.
The Italian coach said this busy schedule meant he was going to manage his resources for the trip across the Spanish capital to Vallecas, as he wanted to keep his full squad as fresh as possible to ensure no more slip-ups in the title race.
"I am going to make some rotations thinking of Tuesday’s game, just because I have fresh players," Ancelotti said. "Tomorrow we need to play a game with intensity, so some players who did not feature against Sevilla are going to play. We need to win, while playing well."
A midfield shake-up will see Xabi Alonso make his first start in five months, after coming through a substitute appearance against Sevilla unscathed, Ancelotti said.
"Xabi will start tomorrow, I do not know if he will last the whole game, but he is going to play," he said. "In [Sami] Khedira’s position, [Luka] Modric could play, or [Angel] Di Maria or Casemiro, along with Alonso. [Asier] Illarramendi’s characteristics are closest to Alonso [so he will not start]."
Di Maria could also come back in on the right wing, to allow Gareth Bale to have a rest after starting two games in the last week. Alvaro Morata and Jese Rodriguez are options should centre-forward Karim Benzema get the evening off -- although Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to start as usual.
Sergio Ramos is free to play despite picking up his fifth yellow card of the season during Wednesday’s game at the Bernabeu, as Spain’s disciplinary committee is currently on a break. He is likely to be partnered in central defence by Pepe, with Raphael Varane having missed training on Friday morning as a precaution.
"Varane is a little tired, he is not going to play tomorrow so he can be ready for Tuesday," Ancelotti said. "He played two games, we need to be careful with his knee. He played two games, so tomorrow he will rest to avoid problems."
Dani Carvajal was also likely to come in at right-back, said Ancelotti, but not because of Alvaro Arbeloa’s performance against Sevilla when the Spanish international was whistled by his own team's supporters.
"I believe Arbeloa played very well," he said. "One part of the fans applauded him, another part whistled him. They wanted more from him, and he reacted well. It is not a problem, but Carvajal is fresh and has a better chance to play tomorrow."
Rayo have troubled Madrid on occasions in recent seasons at their tight Vallecas ground, but Paco Jemez’s team come into this game in woeful form, second bottom of the Primera Division table, and with a goal difference of minus 19 after just 11 games.
Ancelotti said that he nonetheless expected a tough test, and his side would need to be fully focused at all times.
"Tomorrow’s game is a derby, and each derby is different," he said. "The last five times Madrid have won, but it has always been a difficult game. The team will play well, with good attitude and concentration to continue our moment, which is not bad."
Lapses of concentration had cost Madrid goals against Sevilla, in a match Ancelotti suggested had been more entertaining for the fans than the coaches.
"I prefer a game where Real Madrid play well for 90 minutes, in attack and defence," he said. "The game against Sevilla showed that in some moments we could have defended better, we needed to concentrate better, to not give many chances to the opposition team."