Upbeat Carlo Ancelotti sees role for Gareth Bale in Clasico test


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The Independent Football

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti will make a late call on the fitness of Gareth Bale ahead of the first Clasico of the season – but both men believe the world-record signing is ready to start against Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

The 24-year-old Wales forward has struggled with a thigh injury in recent weeks but was introduced from the bench against both Malaga in the league last weekend and against Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday, and Ancelotti hinted at his pre-match press conference that Bale could start this weekend.

Ancelotti will also have to decide whether to select Alvaro Morata or Karim Benzema, and was not giving much away. "Morata is in a better physical shape than Benzema now because Benzema did a great defensive job against Juventus and he's more tired," he said. "But [on Saturday] we need quality, not just hard work, and experience in these games is also important."

Ancelotti believes the match comes at a good time for his team and has urged his players to show "courage and personality" against Gerardo Martino's league leaders.

A home victory would move Barça six points clear of their rivals. However, fresh from a 2-1 midweek win over Juventus and last weekend's action in La Liga – Real beat Malaga 2-0 while Barça and Atletico dropped their first points this term – Ancelotti appeared quietly confident.

"I do not know who is favourite. Everyone thinks Barcelona, but this is not bad for us. It is difficult to prepare for this game. Motivation and concentration are massive. The key is to have courage and personality to play football, not just defend and wait. We need character, personality. You should go to Barcelona and try to play football."

Ancelotti, who arrived at the Bernabeu from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer to replace Jose Mourinho, will be overseeing his first Clasico in Spain – and cannot wait to experience it first hand.

"I've seen many games and the one I liked best was the Barcelona-Real Madrid in recent years," the 54-year-old Italian said. "Madrid have improved a lot – starting badly with Mourinho but eventually achieving good results against them.

"[On Saturday] everyone knows what they have to do. It's an important game, but the result is not decisive for the league because it is a long season."

Martino will also be viewing his first Clasico from the dugout after taking over at Barça at the start of the season, and Ancelotti expressed his respect for the job his opposite number was doing.

"Coaching Barcelona is not easy, after [Pep] Guardiola and [Tito] Vilanova, but he is doing a good job," the Real Madrid coach said.

Footy shutdown

Viewers baffled at being unable to tune in to the opening 15 minutes of this weekend's El Clasico are falling foul of a 50-year ruling which prohibits the showing of 3pm kick-offs.

Sky pick up coverage 15 minutes in at the Nou Camp tonight. In a move instigated by Burnley in the 1960s, matches are not televised between 2:45 and 5:15pm on Saturdays for fear of impacting on attendances of other games. The rule does not however, apply on bank holidays, with BT Sport screening 3pm kick-offs this Boxing Day and New Year's Day.