Carlo Ancelotti has backed Angel di Maria’s explanation for his alleged offensive gesture, although confirmed that the Argentine will start on the bench in the first leg of Real Madrid’s Copa del Rey last-16 tie against Osasuna.
Di Maria grabbed his crotch as he walked off to be replaced by Gareth Bale in the second half of the 3-0 win over Celta Vigo on Monday, but later claimed that it was simply a “natural movement.” The incident came on the back of much speculation about the winger’s future, having seen his playing time diminish since the big-money arrival of Bale last summer. Di Maria has since suggested that the Madrid press were fabricating stories about his desire to leave the club, while he was whistled off by sections of the Bernabeu when he made the gesture. Ancelotti, though, is happy to accept his player’s version of events.
“The player has given his explanations and we need to believe what he’s said,” explained Ancelotti, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “If someone thought it was a rude gesture, he’s apologized and the matter ends here because the player has been called up to play and he won’t have any problems in the Bernabeu. The fans demand a lot of the players but they also show them a lot of affection and there won’t be any problems. This issue has to disappear soon, because we need Di María this season.
“He won’t start tomorrow because I’m going to play someone fresher. He’s fine to play and he’s happy here. He’s relaxed, he’s got a good relationship with his teammates and he’s keen to have a good season. He won’t play, but not for that reason.”
Di Maria’s place is likely to be taken by Bale, who returned from injury and set up a goal for Cristiano Ronaldo against Celta. Having made another positive contribution when coming off the bench against Celta, young forward Jese is expected to be handed a starting role. Asier Illarramendi is set to replace Xabi Alonso, who was forced off last time out as he continues to battle the effects of a burst eardrum, while Ancelotti hinted that Alvaro Arbeloa will step in for Daniel Carvajal. Meanwhile, Iker Casillas will continue to be used in goal for cup competitions.
Real Madrid come into Thursday’s contest on the back of an impressive run of 13 games unbeaten in all competitions. But one of only three matches Madrid failed to win in that period was at Osasuna last month when Los Merengues had to come back from two goals down in the second half to salvage a 2-2 draw. Ancelotti is taking nothing for granted when the two sides meet again.
“Playing at home is easier than away,” he said. “Osasuna gave us a torrid time in the League and it’ll be tough. For us the competition is very important and tomorrow we need to get something for the second leg.”
Despite beating Malaga to reach this stage of the Copa del Rey, Osasuna have gone five matches without a win in all competitions. Heading into the first leg, coach Javi Garcia will be without Sisi, Emiliano Armenteros, Nino and Manuel Onwu.
Where to watch: The Copa del Rey round-of-16 first leg will kick off from the Bernabeu at 3.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sports En Espanol, with a live stream available via beIN Sports Play.