Real Madrid will focus on sealing their place in the Champions League round of 16 with a victory against Shakhtar Donetsk in Warsaw on Tuesday, with striker Karim Benzema returning to help in the task, said coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Real Madrid leads Group F with a maximum of nine points from three games and a victory against second-placed Shakhtar —with five points— will take them to the knockout stage.
“Qualifying is the first objective of the season, it comes soon and the sooner it is achieved the better,” Ancelotti told a news conference on Monday.
“Regarding the mental profile, it can give more energy for the national competition, but we must bear in mind that Real Madrid in the Champions League cannot think about not playing a serious game. If we are lucky enough to pass the phase tomorrow, the rest will be serious games that we want to win.
The Italian coach confirmed that there will be changes to his team ahead of the Clásico against his great Spanish rival on Sunday.
While Ancelotti said he could rest striker Vinicius Jr, who scored in the 2-1 win against Shakhtar in Madrid and has played a lot lately, Benzema will be back after being rested in the 1-0 win at Getafe on Saturday in LaLiga.
“Karim is fine and it is quite clear that the game starts tomorrow because he has rested, like Kroos and Mendy. They are fresh and the three of them are going to play,” Ancelotti said.
Frenchman Benzema, who suffered two thigh injuries in early September, played the full 90 minutes against Osasuna and Shakhtar but suffered muscle fatigue and did not play in Getafe.
In Warsaw, where Shakhtar play their Champions League matches due to the war in Ukraine, Real Madrid will continue without their starting goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, so the Ukrainian Andriy Lunin will continue to supply him.
However, the Belgian will return to training on Thursday and should be ready to face Barca, Ancelotti said.
“(Lunin) is young, he has a lot of quality, these games will help him to accumulate experience and knowledge, which is the only thing he lacks at the moment, because his quality in goal is that of a great goalkeeper,” added Ancelotti.
Asked how the young Lunin, 23, is dealing with the news coming from Ukraine about the war, which Russia describes as a “special military operation”, the Real Madrid coach said that both he and the team are there to support him.
“Andriy is quite shy, he is not a person who talks too much. It is normal that what is happening affects him and all Ukrainians. We can only be in solidarity with him and if he needs something we are here to help him,” Ancelotti said.
“We are in solidarity with them (Shakhtar) and we have a lot of respect for them,” he added.
“Playing with these kinds of difficulties means a lot to them, to give a good image of a Ukrainian team that is suffering like the entire Ukrainian population.”