Of Real Madrid’s seven remaining La Liga fixtures, Real Sociedad at Anoeta on Saturday night is arguably the hardest they will play, so they could have done without Friday’s news that Cristiano Ronaldo will not make the trip to the Basque Country.
The Portuguese forward sat out of Friday’s training session in the Spanish capital and his manager, Carlo Ancelotti, later confirmed that he would not play in San Sebastian.
Madrid’s boss painted it out as “a rest” in his pre-game press conference, suggesting that Ronaldo will be fine to return to the squad for Tuesday’s return leg in the Champions League tie against Borussia Dortmund, per @dermotmcorrigan:
“Tomorrow Cristiano will rest as he is a bit tired and has a problem. We prefer for him to stay here, work and be ready for the next game. I’ve spoken with him and we decided together it was best to rest, it is normal that he wants to play all games, but there is no problem.”
Marca had previously reported that it was pain in Ronaldo’s knee which forced him off against Dortmund in midweek and, with Jese Rodriguez also sidelined, it leaves Ancelotti with some tough decisions to make.
Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will continue to form part of the front three, but who will join them in Ronaldo’s absence is where the intrigue lies.
Angel di Maria, who has found a home in the middle of the park this season, would be the obvious choice to push forward again, although Ancelotti confirmed in the same press conference that the Argentine, who has been suffering from gastroenteritis, is more likely to be on the bench.
It could lead to another chance for Alvaro Morata to press a case for his future at Real Madrid.
Reverting back to the No. 1 spot, Diego Lopez will return for Iker Casillas as the two continue to rotate between league and cup matches under Ancelotti’s watch.
Two full-backs join Ronaldo and Jese as absentees from the Madrid squad which will travel north on Saturday: Alvaro Arbeloa and Marcelo. That means Dani Carvajal and Fabio Coentrao are virtually assured starting berths.
In the middle of defence, Raphael Varane may return to afford Sergio Ramos or Pepe a rest, but the two more experienced players are likely to be favoured.
With bodies out elsewhere, it means Madrid’s Italian coach is unlikely to rest key faces in midfield.
Xabi Alonso, who started his professional career at Real Sociedad, will presumably start, as will Luka Modric.
Ancelotti has already confirmed, per @dermotmcorrigan, that Isco will play from the beginning as well, which means, unless the former Malaga man plays instead of Morata, Asier Illarramendi will be on the bench against the side that sold him last summer.
Elsewhere, Sky Sports have reported Sami Khedira is edging closer to a first-team return and the German could be back within the next three weeks.
But while Khedira still isn’t available and Madrid have arguably their biggest injury list of the season, Ancelotti has taken the opportunity to include some of the club’s younger players. Teenage midfielder Alvaro Medran and Brazilian striker Willian Jose have been included in the squad.
Predicted Real Madrid XI: Diego Lopez; Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao; Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric, Isco; Alvaro Morata, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema