Carlo Ancelotti says that Gareth Bale’s first season at Real Madrid is proving to be a success, while suggesting that local media favourite Jese Rodriguez will remain a back-up to the 100 million euro man.
Bale’s position in the starting lineup has been under increasingly scrutiny in the Spanish capital in recent weeks, with the Welsh international lacking in match-fitness and sharpness after the winter break, and now having not scored for Madrid since November.
Meanwhile Madrid youth team graduate Jese, 20, has been perhaps the club’s best attacker in the first weeks of the new year -- with a goal and two assists despite being given limited playing time.
Pressed by reporters about Bale’s form at the news conference ahead of Saturday’s La Liga trip to Real Betis, the Blancos boss said that given the injury issues which have affected his first year in Spain the former Tottenham winger was contributing very well.
“[Bale] is a very, very important player for us,” Ancelotti said. “The signing of Gareth Bale for Real Madrid was very, very good. Bale’s story is very clear -- he had problems preseason, when he was fit he played really well, scored lots of goals and gave many assists. During his first year we need to say he has played well until now. He can improve, to link better with his teammates, but this is normal for a player arriving to a new culture, new football, new country.”
Asked whether Jese had done enough to be considered a member of Madrid’s current first choice XI, Ancelotti said such labels were not so important.
“Jese is good, starting I do not know, we will see tomorrow,” he said. “It is not important to be a starter, but what he is doing -- playing well when he has minutes. That is the most important.”
Another whose contribution has been questioned in recent weeks has been Isco, a 30 million euro summer signing from Malaga who has not shone since his return from the winter break.
Ancelotti said his reasons for bringing Isco in and out of the side were more to do with tactics than unhappiness with the player’s form.
“The positive of attacking midfielder is always occupied by Isco,” he said. “We have played without Isco, putting in Jese as a forward together with Benzema against Celta [Vigo]. We also played without Isco [at Espanyol last weekend], with Di Maria as one of three centre-midfielders. 4-3-3 gives us more defensive cover, has the team more balanced. Then you have the three forwards, but also with a better control of the game.”
Saturday’s opponents are currently rock bottom of the La Liga table, and plagued by issues on and off the field, but Ancelotti said this would just make Betis a more dangerous opponent for Madrid.
“All games are difficult, especially against teams with problems in the table,” he said. “Betis at the moment are bottom, so they will give their all against us as they need to change their momentum of their results. This is big game for them against a big game like Madrid. They did really well against Barcelona at home. We need to be careful with this game, be very focused and and play well as we have in our recent games. We have gained two points on the leaders, and we must continue like this.”