Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti is looking to end 2013 on a positive note by picking up three points in a tricky away match at Valencia on Sunday.
In a Saturday press conference, Ancelotti said he is wary of a match against a side determined to gain momentum before the holiday break.
“It’s an important match at an important moment because it’s the last of the year,” he said. “Valencia has changed manager and we’re going to be playing against a team that is motivated and focused, because that’s what happens when the manager changes.”
Valencia sacked manager Miroslav Djukic on Monday after six months in the position. They have only taken 20 points from 16 games and sit in 10th place, far behind where the six-time La Liga champions want to be.
Despite a decent first-half performance, Valencia gave up three second-half goals to Atlético Madrid to lose their most recent match 3-0.
Los Blancos have enjoyed positive league results at the Mestalla stadium in recent years, including a 5-0 win in January.
“We’ve had good results there in the past, but every match is different and it’ll be difficult,” Ancelotti said.
The Italian manager defended Madrid’s away form this season despite a 2-2 draw against relegation side Osasuna last weekend.
“We’ve played good matches, but it’s normal for it to be more complicated to win away games,” he said. “It was strange against Osasuna because the first 30 minutes were very good. We started out well and tomorrow we have to continue playing well in order to win.”
Angel di Maria will replace Gareth Bale on the right wing while the Welshman nurses a leg injury.
“The blow he received isn’t important, but he isn’t able to play against Valencia because he hasn’t had enough time to recover,” Ancelotti said.
Ancelotti also said he is eager to keep Xabi Alonso in Madrid. The Basque midfielder has not yet accepted a contract extension, and while rumours are circulating that he could leave the club on a free transfer in the summer, Ancelotti said he had not heard such news officially.
“We at the club don’t have that information,” Ancelotti said. “Whether he renews or not, he’s our player until this summer and we hope that beyond that too. He’s very important to the team and if he’s available, he’ll play. I haven’t spoken with the club because I don’t need to. All the staff would like him to renew his contract because he’s a very important player and one of the best midfielders in the world.”
The 32-year-old Spaniard is a key figure in the Madrid side particularly for his wide range of passing, and he is often the player to launch attacks. He has developed a strong partnership with Luka Modric in midfield, but Ancelotti is confident in his other players.
Madrid can come within five points of league leaders Atlatico with a win Sunday. Their crosstown rivals are at the top of the table on 46 points with a game in hand. Barcelona can draw level in first with three points against RCD Espanyol.