Madrid finished 2014 on a record-breaking 22-match winning streak, but in 10 games since Christmas they have suffered a friendly defeat to AC Milan, lost to Valencia in La Liga and seen the defence of their Copa del Rey title ended by bitter rivals Atletico.
The league leaders reached a new low last weekend, though, as they crashed to a 4-0 defeat at Atletico – their heaviest derby loss in three decades.
The fall-out from that humiliation has been intense, from club president Florentino Perez holding a supposed ‘crisis’ meeting with the players to speculation that Cristiano Ronaldo – who has been lambasted for his performance in the derby and for his 30th birthday celebrations just hours after the final whistle – could be sold.
However, the players now have a chance to answer their critics as they return to action against Depor on Saturday, and Ancelotti is expecting a good response at what he believes could be crucial stage of their season.
The Italian, whose team resume their Champions League campaign against Schalke next Wednesday, said at his pre-match press conference: “It’s been a frustrating week. This is a motivation for the players and we expect to see a reaction in tomorrow’s match.
“Since the final of the Club World Cup, our intensity, attitude and concentration has lowered a bit. I don’t know if that’s normal, but that’s what has happened.
“We have dipped a bit but we still have time to bounce back. I have faith that that will happen. This squad fills me with confidence and I’m sure that we will be competitive yet again.
“We are in a key week. What happens in these days is going to help determine what could happen in the future.”
Real’s derby mauling allowed second-placed Barcelona to close to within one point of them, while defending champions Atletico are now just four points back.
Both of those in-form sides will expect to pick up victories this weekend as well, with Barca hosting third-bottom Levante while Atletico go to mid-table Celta Vigo
Barca star Lionel Messi could make his 300th Primera Division appearance in the match against Levante, where Luis Enrique’s men will chase an 11th successive win in all competitions.
The 23rd round of the season begins on Friday night when Real Sociedad go to fellow relegation battlers Almeria, while on Saturday stuttering Sevilla will hope to put a run of three defeats in four games behind them at second-bottom Cordoba.
Two Copa del Rey semi-finalists are also in action in Saturday’s matches, with Athletic Bilbao going to last-placed Granada and Espanyol taking on Malaga.
On Sunday, Villarreal, who this week lost 3-1 to Barcelona in the first leg of their Copa semi-final, are at Rayo Vallecano while fourth-placed Valencia take on Getafe.
The round concludes on Monday night when Eibar meet Elche.