Real Madrid can go level on points at the top of the Spanish Primera Division when they take on Real Betis at the Estadio Benito Villamarin on Saturday. A draw between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in their top-of-the-table matchup last weekend means Los Merengues are now just three points back of their title rivals following their win over Espanyol. With both Atletico and Barcelona playing on Sunday, Madrid have a powerful incentive to get the three points against the side currently bottom of La Liga. Manager Carlo Ancelotti, though, is keen to take nothing for granted.
“They are all tough games and more so when they are against teams in trouble in the table,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “Betis are last and need to turn things around. I remember that against Barcelona they played a really good first 20 minutes. We need to take care and keep concentrating.”
Madrid beat Osasuna 2-0 in midweek to confirm their progress into the last eight of the Copa del Rey and record their sixth straight win in all competitions. Ancelotti reverted to a 4-3-3 formation in the match, with Angel di Maria in midfield and Isco playing as a false nine surrounded on either side by Cristiano Ronaldo and Jese.
“The 4-3-3 gives us better defensive cover and control of the game,” Ancelotti explained. “I won’t say what system we’ll use tomorrow. In Pamplona I put [Asier] Illarramendi in a 4-3-3 to try it.”
Gareth Bale was restricted to a role off the bench in the cup encounter, as the Welsh winger continued his slow start to 2014. But Ancelotti suggested he will start against Betis, and he has full confidence in the former Tottenham man’s ability.
“I think that he’ll have a great game tomorrow,” he said. “He’s a very important player. He’s signing was very good for the club. He had some problems with the pre-season and since then he’s played well. For his first year he’s doing well, though he needs to link up better with his teammates. It’s normal for someone who’s arrived in a new country with different style of play.”
In contrast to Madrid, Betis lost 2-1 to Osasuna when the two sides met last weekend. The defeat extended the Andalusian side’s winless run in La Liga to an incredible 12 matches, dating all the way back to September. Coach Juan Carlos Garrido has so far failed to instigate any sort of revival since he replaced Pepe Mel in November and the team, which qualified for the Europa League last season, suffered another blow when being ousted from the Copa del Rey by Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday. Garrido, though, attempted to take positives form the 2-0 loss in Bilbao.
“I believe today's match will have reinforced the team as they have performed well defensively and from an organizational point of view,” he said, according to Real Betis’ official website. “We should come away stronger as the players know they have worked well, they were serious contenders putting up a fight right up until the final minute.”
Where to watch: The Spanish Primera Division match will kick off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sports, with a live stream available on beIN Sports Play.