Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has insisted that his star front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale will always start when fit despite a recent dip in form from all three.
The European champions were usurped at the top of La Liga for the first time in five months on Sunday as Barcelona took advantage of Madrid’s fourth defeat in 14 games in 2015 at Athletic Bilbao 24 hours earlier with a 6-1 thrashing of Rayo Vallecano.
However, Ancelotti believes his faith in the players that delivered a club record four trophies in 2014 will eventually be rewarded.
“As long as they are fit, it is unnegotiable because they have given us a lot,” Ancelotti said on the eve of his side’s Champions League last 16, second leg against Schalke on Monday.
“Without doubt I have confidence in them. There has been a general dip from the team not just them. They have scored less in the last three games but I think that we have to help the strikers.
“We will play in the same way. We won’t change our identity because that is how we feel most comfortable and how the players have produced good results and scored many goals.”
Bale has been particularly poor in recent weeks and is currently on his longest goal drought since joining Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur 18 months ago having gone eight games without finding the net.
Ancelotti, though, said that it would be unfair to pick out the Welshman for criticism given the poor performances of the whole team in 2015.
“I think we would have to drop the whole team using that criteria given the whole team isn’t playing well.
“I would have to drop Karim because he hasn’t scored in a few games. I would have to drop Cristiano, the central midfielders, I am making a more general consideration of the team that has to improve.
“Everyone must do their bit. I don’t think Bale is happy with how he is playing and he understands that he has to improve.”
Los Blancos should still ease into the last eight of the Champions League for a fifth consecutive season as they hold a 2-0 advantage from the first leg in Gelsenkirchen three weeks ago.
Madrid will also be boosted by the return of Bale’s former Spurs teammate Luka Modric to the squad for the first time in four months after suffering a torn thigh muscle.
Ancelotti confirmed that the Croatian will start on the bench with the view of giving him a run out for half an hour in the second-half.
Sergio Ramos won’t be risked despite returning to training after a month out with a hamstring injury with the Spanish international likely to return against Levante on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Modric’s return also means that 16-year-old Martin Odegaard will miss out on the chance to become the youngest ever player to appear in the Champions League.
“He will not be in the squad because he is following his programme,” Ancelotti said of the Norwegian.
“He is doing well, he is improving and how close he is to playing with the first team I don’t know, but he is a very talented player.”