Ronaldo and Bale set for Madrid starts
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti says Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are both likely to start Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semifinal first leg against neighbours Atletico Madrid.
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Madrid are currently waiting to see what ban Spain’s Competition Committee will impose after Ronaldo was shown a straight red card for raising a hand during a confrontation with Carlos Gurpegi and Ander Iturraspe during Sunday’s 1-1 La Liga draw at Athletic Bilbao.
Legal experts at the Santiago Bernabeu are reportedly preparing a defence which will include pointing out apparent errors in the report of referee Miguel Angel Ayza Gamez, while claiming the gesture made by the Portugal international as he left the pitch was not aimed at any of the officials, but was just a general show of frustration.
Should the authorities deem the offence serious enough they could impose a four-game ban which would include both Copa legs against Atletico. However, Ancelotti told his news conference after training at Valdebebas on Tuesday morning that he was expecting a much lighter punishment -- to be served in La Liga -- given the incident was pretty minor.
“I do not believe we have to wait on the committee,” Ancelotti said. “I am sure he will not get a serious ban for this. Cristiano starts tomorrow. I do not believe it was such a bad gesture. He was not happy as the red was exaggerated after he had been provoked. He is always being provoked, being fouled, in many games.”
Asked whether he expected the game to be similar to September’s meeting when Atletico won 1-0 at the Bernabeu in La Liga, Ancelotti said his side have improved a lot in the four months since then.
“It is true, Atletico have beaten Real Madrid in La Liga, but Madrid have changed a lot,” he said. “We deserved to lose that game, but tomorrow will be a very different team. We must consider this is a tie played over 180 minutes. They are not an easy team to overcome, well organised, good in defence and on the counter-attack. As always we must be at our best, and play with confidence. It is important not to concede when you are playing the home game [in a two-legged] tie.”
Ancelotti said he had not yet decided whether Bale -- who has not played since picking up a thigh injury during the 2-0 Primera Division win over Granada on Jan. 25 -- will start the game, but the Wales international is fit again and available for selection.
“Tomorrow we will decide on the team,” he said. “Bale is available, he has recovered, has trained with the team for two days. He is fine.”
Ancelotti did, though, concede that it might be next season before Madrid’s fans saw the best of last summer’s signing.
“Bale has played well when he was fit,” he said. “He has had some problems, for sure he will be much better next year. First, after having a normal preseason, and also with more knowledge of Spanish football culture.”
Further changes for Wednesday's match should see Iker Casillas playing, as he has been doing in cup games this season. Ancelotti also confirmed that Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Coentrao will come into the side and play in the full-back positions, but centre-back Raphael Varane is more likely to feature in next Saturday’s La Liga game at home to Villarreal.