Real Madrid aren't out of La Liga's title race, but they'll probably have to be perfect through the end of the season to capture the crown. And even that might not be enough, with Barcelona four points ahead and not looking like losing anytime soon. Wednesday's match away to Rayo Vallecano, like all others, is a must-win for Madrid.
Carlo Ancelotti has been able to avoid selection dilemmas all season with injuries making his decisions for him, but that's not the case anymore. James Rodriguez, Isco, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale are all fit, meaning one of them is likely to start on the bench. As per usual, Madridistas only care about what Bale has done for them lately, not the two trophies he won for them last season, and would prefer for him to be the odd man out.
Ultimately, what he does in this match doesn't matter much. Ancelotti can play off any decision as simple squad rotation. What really matters is who starts in Champions League, and that's what everyone is auditioning for over the next couple games.
Rayo are a quality side who are on a solid run, but they're unlikely to upset Madrid on Wednesday. They refuse to compromise their attacking style of play against top teams, and it's gotten them handily beaten by Atlético Madrid and Barcelona. The reason they're in ninth instead of the bottom three is the same reason they're likely to lose this game by multiple goals.
Rayo Vallecano injuries and suspensions
Out: Leo Baptistao (groin). In doubt: Nery Castillo (illness), Ze Castro (shoulder), José Raul Baena (knee)
Real Madrid injuries and suspensions
Out: Pepe (thigh)
James Rodriguez is back for Real Madrid, but they're not quite fully healthy yet. Pepe keeps picking up injuries, so Los Merengues need Raphael Varane to step up his game. He's had a very up-and-down season.
Match date/time: Wednesday, 4 p.m. ET, 10 p.m. local
Venue: Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas, Madrid, Spain
TV: beIN Sports (U.S. and Canada), beIN Sports en Español (U.S. - Spanish), Sky Sports 5 (U.K.), Canal+ (Spain)
Online: beIN Sports Connect (U.S. and Canada), Sky Go (U.K.), Canal+ Yomvi (Spain)