Real Madrid recovered from their first dropped points of the year to hammer local rivals Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey semifinal on Wednesday night. Goals from Pepe, Jese Rodriguez and Angel Di Maria propelled them into a lead Atletico will find very tough to reverse at the Vicente Calderon next week.
Before that though, Real Madrid welcome Villarreal to the Bernabeu on Saturday.
The Yellow Submarine have been performing above expectations during their first season back in La Liga: They held Madrid to a draw at El Madrigal, and like Athletic Bilbao, which held Los Blancos to a 1-1 draw last weekend, they are in the mix for Champions League qualification.
For their visit, Carlo Ancelotti will not be able to count on the services of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Spanish FA handed the Ballon d’Or winner a three-game ban on Wednesday after his dismissal against Athletic.
Pending an appeal—Ancelotti confirmed the club will appeal, via Football Espana—the Portuguese international will miss the league matches against Villarreal, Elche and Getafe. The ban does not carry into the cup.
The Welshman had been expected to return to the squad on Wednesday night, but he pulled out in the build up to kick-off. Madrid’s manager explained it was purely about keeping him fit.
“I preferred to rest Bale today,” he said. “On Saturday I may not be able to use Cristiano so a fresh Bale will be good.”
Elsewhere in Madrid’s front three, the explosion of Jese continued against Atletico. He scored the second goal in the win with a deft touch and is likely to join Karim Benzema and Bale across the attacking line against Villarreal.
“Everyone knows that Jese is a very, very important player for us,” Ancelotti added on Wednesday night.
At the other end of the pitch, there should be league returns for Diego Lopez, Dani Carvajal and Marcelo.
Iker Casillas took the gloves for the win against Atleti and extended his run without conceding a goal to over 800 minutes, but Lopez is established as the La Liga goalkeeper, and there is no reason to suspect that will change this weekend.
Likewise with Marcelo and Dani Carvajal: Both have been regulars in the league since the turn of the year, and they should take the places of Fabio Coentrao and Alvaro Arbeloa.
Meanwhile, Raphael Varane is back in full training, and Ancelotti could use him and give a break to either Sergio Ramos or Pepe.
Ancelotti may also be tempted to rotate his midfield and bring in Asier Illarramendi to rest the legs of one of Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric or Di Maria.
However, with the lead they will take to the Vicente Calderon next week, the Italian may rather use that match to bring Illarra in and break up his established three-man midfield.
Predicted Real Madrid XI: Diego Lopez; Dani Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric, Angel Di Maria; Jese Rodriguez, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema