Real Madrid head into Saturday’s clash with Villarreal on the back of arguably their best result of the season in brushing side Atletico Madrid, but facing the first of three matches without talisman Cristiano Ronaldo. After back-to-back defeats to their local rivals, Madrid all but secured a place in the Copa del Rey final with a 3-0 win over Atletico at the Bernabeu on Wednesday. But the euphoria has been tempered somewhat with Ronaldo’s controversial red card against Atheltic Bilbao last weekend and subsequent three-match suspension being upheld on Friday.
With Ronaldo’s absence, Gareth Bale’s return from injury comes at a welcome time. The big-money signing has recovered from a calf injury and was left out of the clash with Atletico in order that he be completely recovered to take on the responsibility vacated by Ronaldo. Yet, it is another player that has grabbed the imagination of the Bernabeu faithful in recent weeks. In his first full season with the first-team, 20-year-old Jese Rodriguez has become an increasingly important player and has now scored in his last three outings.
While brushing off talk of Jese featuring in this summer’s World Cup for Spain and even becoming a future Ballon d’Or winner, Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti also dismissed the notion that the forward’s emergence poses a threat to Bale.
“I am very pleased with the work he is doing -- we all are,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “He has come on a lot and is playing well. But he is still young and we have to be careful with him. It’s not the moment to be talking about what might lie ahead in the future.
“Everyone is happy with how Jese is doing. With him, we are a stronger team and that makes everybody happy, including Bale. At the start of the season, people doubted that he could bring something to the team.”
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Going into the match with Villarreal, Madrid lie three points off leaders Atletico in La Liga and level on points with second placed Barcelona. Every point is set to be crucial between now and the end of the season, but Saturday’s opponents promise to be no pushovers.
Villarreal have impressed on their return to the Primera Division and lie in fifth place, just three points off a Champions League berth. Coach Marcelino Garcia Toral will be without Nigerian striker Ikechukwu Uche against Madrid, as well as midfielder Cani and on-loan Atletico Madrid youngster Oliver Torres.
The side will have the services of French striker Jeremy Perbet, who scored twice in a 3-1 win over Osasuna last time out. And Perbet believes that keeping Madrid’s forward talent quiet will be crucial to getting a result at the Bernabeu.
"We are facing one of the most interesting games to play and we do it with great gusto and with great enthusiasm,” he said, according to Villarreal’s official website. “It’sure to be a great game and we'll see how it is given. We know it will be a tough game, the key is to keep a clean sheet, be fast and be strong in defense. It is difficult and more so with Real Madrid, but I'll try. From there, we're a team that is playing well, attacking well and has shown this season. Therefore we will try to do well in the Bernabeu and also to get something positive.”
Where to watch: The Primera Division match will kick off at 2 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sports, with a live stream available on beIN Sports Play.