Football

Ancelotti: I will never drop trio

- PHOTO: AFP

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has insisted that his star-studded attacking trio 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 overtaken at the top of La Liga for the first time in five months on Sunday as Barcelona took advantage of Real'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 who 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 tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

"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 has not found the net in eight games - his longest goal drought since joining Real from Tottenham Hotspur 18 months ago.

Ancelotti, though, said that it would be unfair to single 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 aren't playing well," said the Italian.

"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 his 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.

Real 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.

LUKA RETURN

Ancelotti confirmed that the Croatian (above) 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 Spain international likely to return against Levante on Sunday.

Schalke, meanwhile, enjoyed a far more successful weekend as they registered a first win in five games with a 3-1 victory over Hoffenheim.

That result boosted the Royal Blues' chances of a return to the Champions League next season, but left back Christian Fuchs retains hope of a famous comeback at the Bernabeu.

"We travel now to Madrid in a positive frame of mind, no one will bet on us, so maybe there is a chance for us," he said. ‚Ä®- Wire Services.

Champions League