Gareth Bale is set to appear off the bench against Malaga on Saturday as the Welsh attacker makes the latest comeback in his stuttering start to life at Real Madrid. The big-money summer signing has made just one start for the club, with the cause of his niggling injuries recently coming under intense scrutiny.
Madrid-based sports daily Marca claimed that Bale had a slipped disc in the back, which led the club to respond with a vehement retort stating that the problem was a far less serious disc bulge. Manager Carlo Ancelotti also played down the issue as he prepares to bring Bale back into the squad.
“He doesn’t have a problem with his back,” he said according to Spanish publication AS. “You can’t play 100 games in four years with a slipped disc. His problem is that he missed pre-season. He can play now and he’s ready for it. I don’t know if he’ll play the whole game or not against Malaga, but I’ll try to play him. I’ve had three disc protrusions and they never gave me a problem in my career.”
It has been a less than ideal start to his time at the Bernabeu for Ancelotti. In addition to the 1-0 defeat to local rivals Atletico Madrid that leaves them five points off the pace in La Liga, Madrid’s last two victories have only come courtesy of injury-time goals from Cristiano Ronaldo. The former Paris-Saint Germain boss accepts that an improvement is necessary as he embarks on a big week that also sees matches against Juventus and the Clasico with Barcelona.
“We need to do better,” he said. “Against Levante we played very badly for a time, then very well. We need to tighten up the defense and move the ball faster. We’re going to get better because we know what we’ve been doing wrong.”
After losing their first two games of the season, Malaga went unbeaten in their next five but a defeat last time out at home to Osasuna leaves them in 10th place in La Liga. And captain Duda concedes that his side faces a tough, but not impossible, task to get a victory at the Bernanbeu.
“It’s a very difficult ground, and we’ll have to make the most of our strengths on Saturday,” he said, according to the official Malaga website. “Malaga CF needs to play the perfect match in order to win, which is certainly possible as we’re determined to give it our all.”
Real Madrid (probable)
D: Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo
M: Illarramendi, Khedira, Isco
F: Di Maria, Benzema, Ronaldo
D: Gamez, Sanchez, Angeleri, Antunes
M: Tissone, Darder
Portillo, Morales, Duda
F: El Hamdaoui
Prediction: Real Madrid are still trying to find their identity under Ancelotti, with the Italian trying to make the team play a more possession-based style. The absence through injury of Xabi Alonso has been a big loss to the side. Sami Khedira, Isco and Asier Illarramendi will start on Saturday and there will be pressure on the latter two to provide the creativity. Isco has gone off the boil since a flying start but will surely have plenty of motivation to put in a good performance against his former club. It may not be quite the free-flowing play the fans are after, but Madrid should still pick up a win.
Real Madrid 3-1 Malaga
Where to watch: The Spanish Primera Division clash will kick off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream available on beIN Sport Play.