Gareth Bale returns to the Real Madrid squad for the club’s first match of 2014, at home to Celta Vigo, but is likely to have to settle for a place on the bench. The record signing has been absent since Dec. 14 with a calf injury, but coach Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed that he will be involved in some capacity on Monday.
“He’ll be included in the squad for the match tomorrow, but I have to decide if he’s going to play,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “He has trained this week, he’s fine, he has no problems, but we might wait a bit more so as to play him at peak condition.”
The comments suggest that Bale will start from the bench, with Angel di Maria likely to be included in the lineup in his stead. There is growing competition for places in forward areas for Madrid, however, with youngster Jese Rodriguez having scored the winner in Madrid’s last Primera Division match at Valencia and in a friendly against Paris Saint-Germain in Doha last week.
Scheduling and injury mean that Madrid’s talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, will take the Bernabeu pitch for the first time in close to two months. Ronaldo will have particular incentive to put on a show too, with Portugal legend Eusebio having passed away over the weekend.
There will be a very different kind of tribute played by the Real Madrid crowd toward Celta Vigo coach Luis Enrique. As Luis Figo knows all too well, those that cross the divide between Madrid and Barcelona are not easily forgotten. And Enrique’s acrimonious journey in the opposite direction to Figo in 1996 has been much discussed in the Madrid press as he prepares to face Los Merengues for the first time as a coach. Ancelotti, for one, was trying to turn the focus away from the sidelines.
"I know his story, but it will be a match between Real Madrid and Celta Vigo,” he said. “There is no problem.”’
For his part, Enrique is under no illusions by the greeting he is likely to receive.
"It was such a long time ago,” he explained, according to Marca. “I'm focused on the present. I'm a coach now and I live in the here and now. I'm focused on my work, which is something I like and that makes me feel fulfilled. I enjoyed my playing days to the fullest and always tried to be of as much value as possible to every club I played for. I don't know what sort of reception I'll get, but I'm not expecting any welcoming parties.”
Enrique has bigger worries, though, with Celta having lost three of their last five La Liga outings to leave them above the relegation zone on goal difference alone. The match is equally vital for Madrid, who badly need a win to cut the gap on Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao to five points ahead of the meeting between the top two next week. Both Fabio Coentrao and Raphael Varane remain a couple of weeks away from a return form injury, while Sami Khedira is a long-term absentee.
Where to watch: The Spanish Primera Division match will kick off at 1 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream available via beIN Sport Play.