Real Madrid are still struggling to get back to peak fitness after the domestic season was paused for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, manager Carlo Ancelotti said on Tuesday.
The Italian is preparing his side for their Spanish Super Cup semi-final against Valencia in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday but has to rouse his players after they lost 2-1 to Villarreal in LaLiga at the weekend.
Ancelotti said that he is trying to make adjustments accordingly due to the unique experience of having a mid-season World Cup.
“It was foreseeable that (the players) would not be at the top-form at the moment, yet we are seeing positive signs in the (training) sessions,” Ancelotti told a news conference in Riyadh.
“I was surprised at Villarreal. We have to start doing things well again, I’m not saying work, because we don’t have time to work.
“This team knows how to defend very well, up front we have the necessary quality, but we have to provide support with a more solid base.”
After holders Real meet Valencia on Wednesday, Barcelona face Real Betis on Thursday to fight it out for the other spot in Sunday’s final.
Real travelled on Monday without defensive midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and centre back David Alaba, as both have undisclosed injuries that leave them light in defence – already an area where the team have struggled.
“The defensive aspect is not one of quality, but of mentality and sacrifice,” Ancelotti said.
“We are used to having a compact, solid block. I am convinced that we will see it again soon.
“I don’t see a mental load on the players. Sure, we’re hurt for what happened at Villarreal, but we have to see how the team reacts.”
The Spanish soccer federation agreed a ten-year deal worth a reported 40 million euros ($42.92 million) per year with the Saudi sports authority in 2019 to expand the Super Cup from two teams to four and have it hosted in the Middle East.
Last year Real Madrid defeated the previous year’s champions Athletic Bilbao 2-0 in the final to win their second title in three years.