MADRID (AP) — Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior will likely be rested on Saturday for the match that can give Real Madrid the Spanish league title, coach Carlo Ancelotti said Friday.
Madrid needs a draw against Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium to clinch its record-extending 35th league title, and second in three seasons.
Ancelotti said everyone wants to play in the possible title decider, but he has to take into account that Madrid faces a must-win game against Manchester City next week in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals, when the Spanish powerhouse will have to overcome a one-goal deficit to keep its European title hopes alive.
“I think Benzema and Vinícius will get some rest,” Ancelotti said. “I feel that if players are well they need to play, but if someone needs to rest I’ll let them rest. Not because it will be an easy match, but if there is a risk of injury they’ll be rested.”
Benzema and Vinícius have been key to Madrid this season and are the team’s top scorers. Benzema leads the league with 25 goals, 11 more than Vinícius.
The France striker has scored 16 goals in his last 12 matches in all competitions and has 41 goals in 41 games overall this season. He also is the top scorer in the Champions League.
Ancelotti will be forced to make changes to his defense because David Alaba remains injured and Éder Militão and Nacho Fernández are suspended. The coach said Alaba may be fit to face Man City on Wednesday.
In midfield, Casemiro missed the first leg against Man City in England but could make his way back to the squad on Saturday.
Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale, who have played few minutes this season because of injuries, remained out of the squad.
Madrid has a 15-point lead over both Barcelona and Sevilla with five matches to go. A single point from the last five matches will be enough to give the club its third league title in the last six seasons.
“If we win, we will celebrate like everyone else,” Ancelotti said. “But first we have to win.”