Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed that Fabio Coentrao will not play against Malaga in La Liga on Saturday night but the Portugal international is still the man to plug the gap left by the suspended Marcelo in next Wednesday's huge Champions League quarter-final clash against Atletico.
The Real Madrid coach was left in a minor predicament ahead of the visit of Javi Gracia's side this weekend. Play Marcelo, Madrid's unquestioned left-back of choice this season, or play the man who will take the Brazilian's place in the starting line-up for the visit of Diego Simeone's troops four days later.
Coentrao is the obvious choice to replace Marcelo in the Madrid defence next week but the former Benfica man has been starved of competitive action this season. An ideal scenario would see the Portuguese defender handed some vital minutes to prepare him for Wednesday's derby clash but Madrid cannot afford any slip-ups in the league - their strongest starting eleven is required against Malaga this weekend.
"Those who are in the best shape will play tomorrow," Ancelotti said at his pre-match press conference. "It's not a game for giving minutes to those who need to build up rhythm - it's a game we have to win to continue our run of results. Coentrao won't play tomorrow."
Coentrao's complete absence from the squad to face the Costa del Sol club is a surprise. That, coupled with the fact that Ancelotti admitted he is a player who needs to "build up rhythm", points towards an alternative at left-back against Atleti. Nacho can play there but more often than not Alvaro Arbeloa has filled in when needed, as shown against Eibar last weekend when Nacho came on and played right-back, with Arbeloa moving out to the left.
Those options will all be in Ancelotti's thinking. Coentrao may have suffered from various injuries and suspensions this season but more often than not he has been ignored. That has partly been down to Marcelo's superb form throughout this season but also partly down to some trust that has been lost in the Portugal international from his coach.
His red card against Espanyol did not help matters and his performance in the 4-0 defeat at Atletico in the league left plenty to be desired. Madrid were awful as a collective unit that day but Coentrao's performance at left-back, albeit in a makeshift Madrid defence, stood out like a sore thumb.
Since then he has hardly featured for Madrid and overall this season the only player in Madrid's first-team squad to have featured in fewer minutes is Alvaro Medran, who is more used to playing with Castilla. Coentrao has played in only 278 minutes in La Liga, from just three starts and four more appearances from the bench. Marcelo has played in 2438 minutes and even Nacho has been handed 533 minutes on the pitch in La Liga.
His season has followed similar traits to that of Sami Khedira. An option rarely used, with various injuries picked up throughout the campaign. Khedira's contract is up at the end of the season and he has already announced he will be leaving the club but Coentrao's deal runs until 2018. Still, it seems the full-back is just biding his time before a possible departure to pastures new in the summer.
Perhaps that knowledge that Coentrao may be on the move come the end of the campaign has been playing on Ancelotti's mind. Madrid have already strengthened their right-back options with the signing of Danilo from Porto for next season to rival Dani Carvajal. José Luis Gayà has been heavily linked with bolstering the left-hand side and that could spell the end for the 27-year-old.
If Ancelotti is leaving the Portuguese defender out of his squad this weekend to ensure his only other natural left-back is available for Atleti, it could be Coentrao's Bernabeu swansong. If all goes to plan, what a swansong it could be.
Behind the poor matches, injuries, lack of discipline and comparisons to a Marcelo enjoying arguably the form of his career, Madrid fans need to remember that on his day, Coentrao is not a bad back-up to have at left-back at all.
Despite his lack of match action in Madrid, when he was called-up for international duty last time out he was the star performer for Portugal. He played further up field that day and scored one goal and assisted another, out-shining Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal won their qualifying match against Serbia 2-1. Match sharpness was not a problem for the most part, although he did suffer from cramp late on.
He also did a good job when called upon late last season, notably in the 1-0 home victory over Bayern Munich in the first leg of the semi-final. Coentrao defended well and helped to keep one of the best attacks in Europe from scoring, while assisting Karim Benzema's winner. Ancelotti and Madridistas will be hoping for more of the same on Wednesday if he's called upon.
Fabio Coentrao's case has been a curious one this season. The defender looks set to be heading to pastures new in the summer but he may have a big part to play in Madrid's ultimate success this term.