Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti remains loyal to off-form Gareth Bale despite criticism during the team's poor start to 2015 but needs the Welshman to return to his swashbuckling best.
Bale has sometimes been accused of being too greedy by Spanish media and those accusations returned after last weekend's La Liga defeat by Valencia and Wednesday's King's Cup, last 16 first leg loss to Atletico Madrid.
Ancelotti's side were able to relax over Christmas having won the Club World Cup to extend their Spanish record winning streak to 22 matches but their lacklustre displays since have alarmed fans of the club and scapegoats are being sought.
They were out-fought against Valencia and lacked the intensity and cutting edge as they then lost to Atletico.
After both defeats, Ancelotti had to defend the player who was signed for a reported 91 million euros from Tottenham Hotspur in August 2013 and helped the club win the Champions League and King's Cup in his first season.
"I am happy with the way that Bale is playing and he was not at fault for the defeat," Ancelotti told reporters after the Atletico match.
"The problems were caused by the opposition and generally we didn't have many chances. He scored a goal that was ruled offside but apart from that he was always trying and it was a difficult game for all the players."
Real president Florentino Perez has publicly backed Bale, who says he is happy in Madrid, but reports of interest from Manchester United are circulating and other big clubs will be monitoring the situation.
Part of the problem appears to be Bale's marauding style that sometimes sees him burst forward alone without looking to link with team mates.
Against Valencia his team mates were visibly irritated after one counter-attack when he failed to pick out Karim Benzema who was through on goal and soon after Ancelotti substituted him. Despite his influential performances last season the Madrid faithful have more appreciation for ball players.
For that reason Isco has become an immediate favourite at the Bernabeu even though so far he is not a leading figure in the team.