Carlo Ancelotti is seeking a reaction from his Real Madrid side when they take on Valencia in the semi-final of the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
The European champions, the current Super Cup holders, were beaten 2-1 by Villarreal in La Liga on Saturday to slip three points behind leaders Barcelona in the race for the domestic title.
Madrid next face Valencia at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, with the winner then to contest Sunday's showpiece against either Barcelona or Real Betis, who face each other in the second semi-final on Thursday.
“We are upset about the game against Villarreal,” Ancelotti said in the Saudi capital on Tuesday. “We have to see how the team will react in these next matches. The Super Cup is an important test for us.
“Last year's title gave us confidence for the rest of the season. It's important to do well, to do better than we did in the last few matches.”
Having been revamped in late 2019, the Super Cup used to pit against one another the Spanish league champions and the Copa del Rey winners. However, it was expanded to include the runners-up from both competitions, with Madrid qualifying this year as 2021/22 La Liga winners and Valencia as losers to Betis in the final of the cup. The Super Cup’s contract with Saudi has been extended through to the 2024/25 season.
Ancelotti, who is without a number of first-team players for the cup including defender David Alaba and midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, said his players are still struggling to get back to full fitness after the domestic campaign broke for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
"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 said. "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 [and] up front we have the necessary quality. But we have to provide support with a more solid base.
"The defensive aspect is not one of quality, but of mentality and sacrifice. 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."
Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, sitting alongside Ancelotti, added of the semi-final: “It will be an intense game, but we hope to reach the final.”