Luka Modric will not make his comeback for Real Madrid in today’s testing trip to Athletic Bilbao, but will be back in action for Tuesday’s Champions League meeting with Schalke.
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The influential Croatian midfielder has completed a full week of training with his team-mates after being out of action since November with a thigh injury.
But manager Carlo Ancelotti is determined not to risk a setback by rushing him back too quickly, and will give him a gentle run-out in the Champions League last 16 tie, which should be nothing more than a formality with Los Blancos 2-0 ahead from the first leg.
“Modric is not in the squad today,” said Ancelotti. “But he will be on Tuesday. For this game I haven’t decided yet between Asier Illarramendi, Sami Khedira or Lucas Silva.”
Ancelotti also insisted that he still has full faith in his players after last weekend’s 1-1 home draw with Villarreal, and hit back at criticism that he is not demanding enough with his superstar squad.
“With this ‘soft touch’ that everybody’s talking about, I have won three Champions League titles,” he added. “I am used to criticism. It won’t be for the last time, and it won’t change the way I behave.
“The most important time of the season is now coming and I have total confidence in the team, who won a lot of trophies last year.
“I am convinced we are going to have a good end to the season.”
However, Ancelotti did backtrack slightly on his previous stance that the front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale are guaranteed to start whenever they are available.
Jese Rodriguez has received very little playing time in recent weeks but with Bale struggling for form, the Italian appeared to be more open to the idea of making changes as he said: “Everyone knows Cristiano, Bale and Benzema are good, but sometimes they are not at 100 per cent and this is normal.”
Tonight’s opponents Athletic are on a high after progressing to the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday, and tonight’s game is sure to be played in a fabulous celebratory atmosphere at the splendid new San Mames stadium.
It has been a difficult campaign for the Basque side, who currently lie mid-table after last season’s fourth-placed finish
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