Real Madrid could have Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema back in contention when they visit Sevilla on Saturday looking to remain in touching distance of La Liga leaders Barcelona. The pair have been out for two weeks, during which Madrid have coped impressively to remain within two points of Barcelona in the Primera Division and secure a Champions League semifinal against Juventus.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti will be eager to have them back, however, with a crucial series of fixtures upcoming, beginning with the trip to fifth-placed Sevilla. Yet he insists that he won’t take any chances over the duo’s fitness, despite their return to training.
“I'm not going to take any risks, it's not the last game of the season” he said in his pre-match press conference, reports Spanish publication AS. “If they are available, they are available to play. It might be that they don't play 90 minutes but if there is a risk, we won't use them.”
In their absence, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has taken advantage of a rare opportunity in the starting lineup, scoring three goals in his last three appearances, while James Rodríguez has also been exceptional to help pick up the slack. But while Madrid beat Celta Vigo 4-2 and Almeria 3-0 in their last two league games, Saturday’s encounter promises to be the biggest test of their abilities to overhaul Barcelona.
Sevilla have not lost at their home Sánchez Pizjuán stadium since March 2014, recording 28 wins and six draws in the 34 matches since. It is the longest active streak in all of Europe’s top divisions. Barcelona found out just how difficult it is to take three points away from the venue in southern Spain three weeks ago when they let a 2-0 lead slip to drop two points. Madrid, too, know all about the challenges of the fixture, having lost at Sevilla in each of the previous two seasons.
Were Real Madrid to fail to end Sevilla’s undefeated streak then their hopes of winning a first title in three years could well be effectively dashed. Just four games of the league season remain and, while Real Madrid face their tricky task, Barcelona will be taking on a Cordoba team that sit bottom of the table and have won just three times all season.
While surely keen to get the victory, Real Madrid could also have one eye on the first leg of their Champions League semifinal with Juventus just 72 hours later. Winning the European Cup long been seen as the most prestigious prize at the Bernabeu and, indeed, captain Iker Casillas revealed this week that he’d rather win that than the Spanish title. It is difficult to think, then, that either Bale or, especially, Benzema will play from the start on Saturday.
Crucially, Madrid will definitely remain without Luka Modric. The Croatian midfielder was instrumental in the team’s recovery from a mid-season slump upon his return from a previous injury in March, but his influence could now be missing until the final week of the campaign. In his attempts to balance Madrid’s midfield, Ancelotti has not ruled out returning to the plan he utilized in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal against Atletico Madrid of putting Sergio Ramos in midfield. For a club of Real Madrid’s huge resources, it is still hardly an ideal solution entering their most crucial games of the campaign.
Real Madrid will not be the only team with much on the line at the Sánchez Pizjuán on Saturday. Sevilla are locked level on points with fourth-placed Valencia in the battle for the Champions League place. It has been a hugely impressive season for the team led by former Valencia coach Unai Emery. The side has been inspired by the 19 La Liga goals of Colombian forward Carlos Bacca, while Ancelotti’s men might also have to watch out for former Real Madrid attacking midfielder Jose Antonio Reyes, who has hit form in recent weeks. And the club could still claim a prestigious Champions League place via taking home the Europa League trophy. Sevilla will face Fiorentina in the semifinals as they chase a fourth triumph in the competition in 10 years.
Kickoff time: 2 p.m. EDT
TV channel: beIN Sports
Live stream: beIN Sports Connect