Rafael Benitez says Cristiano Ronaldo is the only guaranteed starter in his Real Madrid side – though he insists the team must always take priority.
Benitez has deployed Gareth Bale in a more central position this season in order to maximise the impact of the Wales international, who has struggled to win over sections of the Santiago Bernabeu support during his time in Spain.
Ronaldo, however, remains Madrid’s most potent attacker and has already scored eight times in just five appearances this season, despite much of the rest of the side being rotated so far.
And while Benitez has challenged the remainder of his squad to force their way into his reckoning, he has stressed there is little chance of Ronaldo being rested.
“There is one undisputed player, and that’s Cristiano,” he said. “And then there are others who have to give their best, and we assess who is well and who is not. If we think a player is good, we’ll use him.
“Every player depends on his characteristics and on how he manages certain matches.
“I’ve not thought of favouring a player at any point over the team. The players know that Cristiano scores 50 goals a season. He makes the difference.”
Benitez – who confirmed Sergio Ramos is not fit to return against Athletic Bilbao on Thursday morning (AEST) as he recovers from a shoulder injury – is expecting a difficult test at the San Mames.
“Athletic are a tough opponent, we lost there last year,” he said.
“Raul Garcia and Aritz Aduriz are Athletic’s references. We have to be very careful. It will be very complicated.
“All of the matches concern me, but none of them scare me because I coach Real Madrid.
“This is Real Madrid and the team can win on any pitch.”
Jese has found himself out of Benitez’s plans for the majority of the campaign, but the former Napoli coach is adamant the forward remains an important player.
He said: “Jese is training well. I have to create a competitive atmosphere among the players.
“I’ve spoken with him, he trained well and he’s done some exceptional work in the last few days. For me, there’s no Jese issue. I put my faith in him and will continue to do so.”
With 10 points and no goals conceded from the opening four Liga games, Benitez has enjoyed a better record than Carlo Ancelotti or Jose Mourinho at the start of his Madrid tenure, but he believes there is little to read into the stats at this stage of the season.
“It’s positive, but the race isn’t won at the first corner. You can make the mistake of obsessing over it,” he added.
“What I want is to reach the final 10 games in good form, as Luis Aragones said.”