Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has decided to leave striker Karim Benzema out of the squad for the trip to San Mames to face Athletic Club on Thursday. Real Madrid will be heading back north to play their Copa del Rey quarter-final match without the La Liga top scorer, who picked up a hamstring injury last week.

The Italian manager held a pre-match press conference on Wednesday and admitted that he was not keen on forcing the Frenchman to play if his fitness is not 100%. "We won't take risks. If he gets the all-clear from the medical team, he can play, if not, someone else will," said Ancelotti.

A few hours later, the squad list was released and the forward line was noticeably missing the French forward. Instead, Ancelotti called up Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio, Luka Jovic, Gareth Bale, Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo.

He also denied that he is choosing to rest Benzema with the upcoming Champions League last-16 clash against PSG in mind. "It doesn't depend on [the Champions League]. As I said, we're not going to take risks because it's not a Champions League final. He knows that and if he's not feeling good, he won't play. But we're not thinking about [the Paris Saint-Germain] game."

Meanwhile, Ancelotti may be forced to use out of favour players because Brazilian national team members Vinicius and Rodrygo had just endured a gruelling flight from the other side of the world. They had been with the Brazil side for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers earlier this week, and barely have two days to recover before the match against Athletic.

"I may need them during the game," said Ancelotti, admitting that the two players are expected to recover well from their flight. "It's true that Vini and Rodrygo return [on Wednesday] but they are 20 years old, not 60 like me. But [Gareth] Bale and [Eden] Hazard are ready."

Real Madrid are favourites to win the match, but they can't be overconfident. Last year, they lost to Athletic Club in the 2021 Supercopa de Espana semi-final, making it anyone's game on Thursday.

"We've played against them several times this season and I think it will be a tight game. To win at San Mames you have to be at your best," added Ancelotti. He would have wanted Benzema to be in the squad, but we are only just a little over halfway through the season. Real Madrid will need their top marksman healthy if they want to challenge for all the trophies that are still available for them this campaign.

Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema scored for Real Madrid AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU