Barcelona are not a ‘direct rival’ in LaLiga title race

Carlo Ancelotti said he does not consider Barcelona now a “direct competitor” for the La Liga title, with Real Madrid at the top of the table and Barcelona in eighth place, 18 points behind.

Real Madrid have won 10 consecutive games in all competitions – including against top four contenders Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad and Seville – while Barcelona have fallen on points against Real Betis and Osasuna in their last two games under new coach Xavi Hernandez.

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Xavi had insisted on Friday that his team could still compete for the league, but Ancelotti was not convinced when the claim was raised to him at a press conference on Saturday.

“A direct competitor? No,” said Ancelotti. “They are behind Sevilla, Atletico and Betis. But Barcelona has the ability to fight to the end. If I was the coach of Barcelona, ​​I would say exactly the same.”

Real Madrid had a challenging week in which six players – Luka Modric, Marcelo, Marco Asensio, Rodrygo, Gareth Bale and Andre Lunin – and Ancelotti’s son and assistant David all tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of Sunday’s game with Cadiz.

“We’ve had setbacks,” Ancelotti said. “But those who tested positive are all fine…Unfortunately we have to live with this. We never thought of postponing the match. We have a team that can handle it. Football and society have to keep going, while playing. We have to be careful and take precautions.”

Ancelotti said he does not yet know when midfielder Modric will return, after he followed up his positive test with a negative result just days later on Friday.

“He hasn’t trained, he’s a little tired and had a fever this week, so he won’t play tomorrow,” Ancelotti said. “We have to assess what the rules say, whether he has to wait 10 days or if he can train after a negative test, we have to clarify that.”

Striker Karim Benzema – LaLiga’s top scorer and assist-maker so far this season – was in doubt in the Cadiz match after being knocked out at the end of the first half in last Sunday’s Madrid derby.

Confirming he will be available, Ancelotti added that Eden Hazard was poised to start his first league appearance since September.

“He will start, he will get minutes and he will show his quality,” Ancelotti said. “He will play – not because there are two absentees – but because he trained well and he deserves it.”

Real Madrid eventually drew with Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16 on Monday after errors that prompted UEFA to repeat the initial draw, which doubled them with Benfica.

“It was unfortunate,” Ancelotti said. “But we will look forward and think about playing a difficult but very exciting match against one of the best teams in Europe.”

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