Cristiano Ronaldo's suspension coincides with Gareth Bale's return from injury
If ever there was an ideal moment in the season for Cristiano Ronaldo to pick up a dubious red card, Saturday's frustrating draw against Athletic Bilbao in San Mames might have been that time.
Carlo Ancelotti would, of course, much rather have his Ballon d'Or winner for the next three league games but, as the season builds towards its defining weeks, giving Ronaldo a rest would be no bad thing.
Ronaldo has played more minutes than any other Real Madrid player this season, appearing in 34 games all from the start, and he has played an additional five internationals dragging Portugal to the World Cup. In his winter break, he even started the friendly against Paris St-Germain to please the sheikhs and sultans in Doha.
Ronaldo's form, put in the relative context of his incredible start to the campaign when he had scored 24 goals in the first 17 matches, has faltered—he has scored only once in his last five games.
Around him 20-year-old Jese's star is quickly rising—the scorer of three goals in four games—and Angel Di Maria is consummately running games from a more central position as conductor of the orchestra, a role once mastered and then vacated by Mesut Ozil.
Carlo Ancelotti: "Gareth Bale has no problems. He is in good physical condition and can have a good game tomorrow." #halamadrid— WeAreMadrid10 (@WeAreMadrid10) February 7, 2014
This recent shift in form, Real has redressed some of the imbalance in their reliance on Ronaldo. With Gareth Bale expected to return to the side this weekend, the timing of Ronaldo's absence in this light is as good as it could be.
A glance at the fixture list backs up the point. The three games Ronaldo will miss are Villarreal, Elche and Getafe. Two are at home, and both Elche and Getafe are bottom-half sides that Real should beat, even without their best player. Ronaldo's return? Local rivals and table-topping Atletico Madrid.
Madrid's fixture list is packed, and Ronaldo would typically demand to play every minute of every game. Instead he will play in the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg before a two-week rest, and his games now read: Atletico Madrid, Schalke, Atletico Madrid, Levante, Malaga, Schalke, Barcelona.
It may not have happened by design, but Cristiano Ronaldo will now be fresh for a period that will help define his and Real Madrid's season, a season in which achieving a treble and La Decima are genuine possibilities.
Ancelotti has been given a rare opportunity to rest the Portuguese without having to drop him from the side and risk his ire. If the Italian manager can navigate past fifth-placed Villarreal on Saturday evening at the Bernabeu, then he may well reap the rewards in the long run of a revitalised Ronaldo.