Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed that Gareth Bale is fit and will therefore start for Real Madrid in Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg at Schalke.
With Cristiano Ronaldo returning from his La Liga suspension, and Karim Benzema all but certain to start too, one place in Madrid’s attack was left up for debate -- with many pundits in the Spanish capital arguing that youngster Jese Rodriguez has been in better form in recent weeks with the Welsh winger still not 100 percent match-fit.
Asked early in his prematch news conference in Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday evening whether Bale or Jese would start the game, the Blancos coach was firm and brief.
"Bale," Ancelotti said. "Bale because he is fit."
The Italian declined to give any further details of the thinking behind the decision, but did say that Ronaldo -- who has sat out Madrid’s last three Liga games while a media storm raged and two appeals failed -- was raring to go having used the break to work on his own fitness.
"He is especially motivated," Ancelotti said. "Really looking forward to playing. He was not happy not to play. He has prepared well, has rested right and worked right. Ronaldo’s physical condition is optimal at this moment."
Ancelotti was less keen to confirm who would play in the full-back positions in the game, with one of Alvaro Arbeloa, Marcelo and Dani Carvajal set to miss out.
"In that position we will see tomorrow," he said. "We still have to think which player is best for that position. The whole squad is fine, it is just a tactical decision. I will decide tomorrow."
Asked what he saw as the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents, Ancelotti was characteristically polite.
"[Schalke] are a very organised team in defence," he said. "In this moment they have young players -- [Max] Meyer, [Julian] Draxler -- with a lot of quality. [Klaas Jan] Huntelaar and [Kevin-Prince] Boateng are players with experience. They have a solid team, not spectacular but well organised defensively and all working together. A team with quality."
Ancelotti also sidestepped a question about if he expected to improve on Jose Mourinho’s three semi-finals in his three years as coach at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, pointing out that such a record was not actually that bad.
"Everybody knows the Champions League is the most important competition in the world, the most difficult too," he said. "You do not need just quality, also fitness, some luck… reaching the semi-finals three times is not easy. So the work done was not so bad."