Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti prepares for a tough fixture without Gareth Bale, while Rafael Varane returns to the squad.

Real Madrid face a tough away fixture at San Mames as they line up against Athletic de Bilbao on Sunday. A point behind arch rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, Real cannot afford to slip up as the race for the Spanish La Liga heats up between the three teams.

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti admitted that the away fixture will be an extremely tough one for Real Madrid and his team will have to be at its best to overcome the opposition at San Mames.

“(The fixture is) a very good test for the league, but we have an important run of games now. It’s very important to win and continue the great performances we gave in January. We need to be hundred percent focused. January was a good month and if we can do the same in February we’ll do well in the future”

Ancelotti spoke about Bilbao in high terms, calling it a “great team, which poses a threat and plays dynamic football.”

“Valverde has done a fantastic job. We have to be at our best. You have to give more than hundred percent to win at San Mamés.” – The Real Madrid manager said.

Real Madrid have started the new year on an extremely good note, keeping 8 consecutive clean sheets, a fact that has gone down well with the Italian manager who always insisted that defensive stability was the key to a successful team.

Still Nursing Injuries

Still Nursing Injuries

Meanwhile Carlo Ancelotti admitted that Gareth Bale will miss the game on Sunday due to his nagging injury but insisted that the Welsh winger will be ready by Wednesday for the semi-final clash against Atletico Madrid.

“Bale is not available because he didn’t train in the week. He won’t train on Sunday and will be ready for Wednesday. He doesn’t need to have another pre-season, his injury is only minor. He needs to train and gain confidence.” – Ancelloti added.

The manager refused to comment on the starting eleven and his replacement for Bale, citing in clear terms that he has plenty of options to cover the spot. Bale’s absence has turned into a boon for Angel di Maria and recent La Fabrica graduate Jese as the two have got plenty of opportunity to impress Ancelotti in Bale’s absence. The manager singled out Jese in his pre-match conference, saying he was extremely pleased with the youngster’s performance this season.

“Jesé’s place in the squad is very clear. He doesn’t have to prove anything. We’re all delighted with what he’s been doing.”

Talking about Varane, who has returned to training after a long absence due to his knee injury, Ancelotti informed that the French defender has been included in the squad list for the away fixture but Madrid will have to be extremely careful regarding the youngster and his injury.

“Varane trained this week and his knee is fine but we need to be careful with him. (He) is included in the squad list for tomorrow’s match but can’t play games every three days, because his knee could swell up.”

Ancelotti also rubbished rumours about Coentrao and Casemiro leaving Santiago Bernabeu, insisting that the duo were integral to his plans at the club.

“Coesntrao isn’t going anywhere. He played well against Espanyol. Same with Casemiro. He doesn’t want to leave Real Madrid.”

Athletic de Bilbao have had a brilliant domestic run so far as they sit only one position below Real Madrid, trailing the Spanish giants by 11 points. Bilbao lost to Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey Quarter-final round and Madrid will be under immense pressure to win against them before their tie against Atletico Madrid.

Real Madrid also paid respect to Luis Aragones in their press conference with Iker Casillas addressing the press and expressing his grief on behalf of the squad at the passing away of his former Spanish manager.

“Luis has changed the history of Spanish football. It’s a sad day for everyone. May he rest in peace. I had a very good relationship with Aragonés. He was loved by everyone.”

“On behalf of the squad, I’d like to express our grief for the passing of Luis Aragónes”.

Carlo Ancelotti too spoke about Aragones, indicating that the former Spain manager will be sorely missed by everyone in the world.

“He was very important for Spanish and world football and will be sadly missed. Spain started to win with Luis Aragonés and everyone will remember him fondly. He was an important figure in football. He opted for a new style of football, like Sacchi did or the Ajax team of the 1970s. He did something new for Spanish football.”