Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has lamented the serious dose of the ‘FIFA virus’ which his squad is suffering from ahead of Saturday’s La Liga trip to Almeria.
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Madrid’s players generally had a positive international break, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane, Luka Modric, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao all securing qualification for next summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
However, Sami Khedira suffered a potentially season-ending knee injury on duty with Germany, while other players have also returned from the break with fitness issues, the Blancos coach told his pre-game news conference on Friday.
“It is not good because we have players who are not available -- [Angel] Di Maria, Khedira, Marcelo, Varane and Coentrao,” Ancelotti said. “The others have worked, we had more days to improve the recovery. It is not good for us.”
With different options including Asier Illarramendi, Isco and Casemiro standing by to replace long-term absentee Khedira, Ancelotti said he had not yet decided whether to stick with the 4-3-3 shape which had done so well before the international break, or move to a 4-2-3-1 with two holding players for the weekend’s game at the Estadio Juegos Mediterraneos.
“We have tried things during these days with the same system, or with two defensive players” he said. “We can use Casemiro, or a ‘double pivot’ with Illarra-Xabi [Alonso], or Casemiro-Xabi, or play with him as a midfielder. I will make the decision tomorrow.”
Ancelotti’s Spanish international contingent have all been included in Madrid’s squad for the game, however, the Italian was particularly critical of the planning for the world champions’ recent friendlies in Equatorial Guinea and South Africa.
“We have the good fortune that there are no more international games until March,” he said “It is difficult to talk about this. I believe the decision for Spain to play those games was not good, because the players have slept three nights on the plane. We are lucky not to have more problems. Better organisation could help teams avoid injuries.”
Varane, who has yet to really regain full fitness following a serious operation on his knee late last season, again misses out due to a complication picked up in France’s 3-0 win over Ukraine this week, Ancelotti said.
“[Varane] has a problem with his knee,” he said. “He cannot play because he did it with France and now has some swelling. It is a normal problem for a player who has suffered this type of injury, but we need to fix it because we need him at 100%. It is not a real concern. [Didier] Drogba had the same injury. You must know why it swells up.”
Ronaldo, who continues to bask in the glory of securing Portugal’s World Cup qualification with his startling hat trick in Sweden on Tuesday, was fine to play this weekend but would get a rest in the Copa del Rey next week, Ancelotti said.
“He will rest because he is suspended in the cup,” he said. “Next week we will give him a few days’ holiday. If I see him tired I will let him recover. But at the moment he looks fresh to me.”