MADRID (AFP) – Santiago Solari has challenged Gareth Bale (AP pic below) to hit top form ahead of what could prove a defining period in Real Madrid’s season.
Madrid face a double-header against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semi-finals in the next month, as well as two legs against Ajax in the last 16 of the Champions League.
After Alaves tonight, they also play city rivals Atletico Madrid in La Liga before a third Clasico at the start of March. Madrid are 10 points adrift of Barca already and cannot afford to let the gap widen further.
Bale has just come back after three weeks out with a calf injury but his return to the starting line-up is not guaranteed, given his team have won six out of their last seven matches.
“The spotlight is always on Gareth,” Solari said at a press conference yesterday. “But I see him focused, connected, plugged in.
“I want him to perform how he knows he can, like he did in the Club World Cup and against Roma. He is an important player for us and I think he is determined to do well.”
Madrid meet Barcelona in the first leg of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, three days after the game against Alaves, but Solari was reluctant to divert focus to the contest at the Camp Nou.
He insists, however, that Madrid are used to big matches coming thick and fast at this stage of the season.
“We are used to it, this team has experience of this at this time of year,” Solari said.
“First, you have to reach this stage in all three competitions, the aim is to keep all of them open.
“We have already won the Club World Cup and we come into this period in good form, with energy, with the whole squad available.
“We face this run of games with absolute tranquility.”