Real Madrid will aim to make it two wins in two games without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu on Wednesday, but face a stiff challenge from high-flying Sevilla. Carlo Ancelotti’s side coped impressively without their talisman over the weekend when coming back from a goal down to breeze past Real Sociedad, 4-1, to maintain their lead atop of La Liga. Ronaldo will return for a heavyweight duel with champions and city rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday, but Ancelotti insists they aren’t looking past the challenge of fourth-place Sevilla.
“The match against Sevilla will pose risks if we aren't at our best,” he said, according to Real Madrid’s official website. “The most important game is tomorrow's, not the derby. We can extend our lead over our rivals and I'll field the best team possible. La Liga won’t be decided until the end, like it was last season. It's important to have a lead at this point, but it won't decide anything.”
In the first match of Ronaldo’s two-game ban, Karim Benzema stepped up in style by scoring twice -- the second a sensational curling strike. But while it turned into a comfortable win, there was further criticism for Gareth Bale, with whistles coming from the Bernabeu crowd after he took the ball off the foot of James Rodriguez and failed to convert a clear chance. Once again the inference was that the most expensive player in history was displaying selfishness. Ancelotti, though, remains firmly behind the Welsh forward.
“Bale is doing his best, at the maximum, to help the team,” he said, reports Spanish publication AS. “He did it very well last year. He scored in the three finals, he is producing a fantastic season. We are at ease with Bale, he is doing it very well. The truth is that I don’t think that he heard whistles, and neither did I. I do not think that he is worried, he is playing well and is in optimum condition. I hope that he continues like so.”
Bale will doubtless be hoping for a repeat of his performance in the same fixture last season when he scored twice and added two assists in a thrilling 7-3 victory over Sevilla. For this latest meeting between the sides, Madrid will be missing Luka Modric, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, but will hand a place in the squad for the first time to January signing Lucas Silva.
Sevilla had a much more taxing time over the weekend, having come from a goal down to beat 10-man Espanyol, 3-2, courtesy of a late winner by on-loan Liverpool forward Iago Aspas. The win kept Sevilla ahead of Valencia and Villarreal in the battle for the final Champions League place, but it came at the expense of an injury to goalkeeper Beto, who was forced off at halftime. He is expected to be fit, though, for the trip to the Bernabeu, as is midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak after overcoming an ankle injury.
Prediction: Real Madrid had displayed stuttering form in January before Saturday’s impressive dismissal of David Moyes’ Real Sociedad. If they can put the meeting with Atletico Madrid to the back of their minds and play the same way again then they will have too much for a Sevilla team that have seen all four of their defeats this season come on the road.
Real Madrid 3-1 Sevilla
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EST
TV channel: beIN Sports
Live stream: beIN Sports Connect