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Danilo out to prove he's back to stay in Madrid's first team

The Brazilian is competing with Dani Carvajal for a regular starting role and now the boot is firmly on the Brazilian's foot.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Ten games and almost two months into the current La Liga campaign and Real Madrid fans are still none the wiser as to who the team's first-choice right-back will be under Rafa Benitez.

Dani Carvajal and Danilo are going head-to-head for a first-time spot but injuries to them, and indeed other players around them so far this season, mean question remains as to who Benitez will opt for as his preferred option in the position.

Everything pointed towards the Brazilian, who arrived at the club from Porto in the summer, before he suffered an injury set-back on international duty last month. Carvajal took advantage with some strong performances in his rival's absence before the Spain international suffered an injury of his own in the 1-1 draw at Atletico.

On Saturday, Danilo returned to action and helped Madrid keep a clean sheet as they swept Levante aside 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu. The former Santos man says he is ready to play in Paris on Wednesday night in the Champions League, too, and that means despite some strong performances from Carvajal while he was in the team, he could find it tricky to win his place back.

"It's always important to have competition," said the Brazilian after playing for Madrid for the first time in over a month on Saturday. "We [he and Carvajal] work hard on a daily basis and the manager ultimately decides who plays, but both of us are ready."

The Castilla product said much the same when the defender arrived in the Spanish capital for a fee of €31.5 million in the summer. "It's one more challenge [for me]," the 23-year-old admitted. "But it's a motivation for me to improve daily. Danilo is one of the best defenders in the world."

The boot is now certainly on Danilo's foot. Had Carvajal avoided an injury set-back at the Calderon, his strong performances may have led to Benitez keeping him in the team. Indeed, had he not suffered an injury Madrid may not have conceded the equaliser, a goal in which Jackson Martinez beat substitute Alvaro Arbeloa for pace down the left before Luciano Vietto prodded home from close range. Carvajal may well have provided the pace to keep the danger out.

As things turned out, Danilo has got his place back in the starting eleven through default. The signs were that he would be first choice after starting in both of Madrid's opening matches of the season - two matches in which the team kept clean sheets. The price tag would have certainly left a Florentino Perez-sized weight on the coach regardless of performance.

There was some surprise when Los Blancos splashed the cash on the Porto man given the rise of Carvajal, a player also much loved because of his development through the club's youth set-up. Carvajal was Madrid and Spain's first-choice right-back and he only looked set to get better at 23-years of age. With his development and rise in full swing, Madrid spent big on the Brazilian.

The talk at the time was that Barcelona were going to sign the full-back as a long-term replacement for countryman Dani Alves. Despite the reported usage of Neymar, a former teammate of Danilo at Santos and teammate with the Brazil national team, to lure the defender to the Camp Nou, he ended up at the Bernabeu.

The price tag was understandably called into question but the need for competition for Carvajal was not. Questions have been asked of Arbeloa in recent seasons and everything pointed to him moving on. As a club, Madrid are keen to build a squad where there is competition in every position and that was needed at right-back to keep Carvajal on his toes. As it turned out, the Brazil star seemed to be a replacement rather than healthy competition.

The initial response was "why bother?" but despite the similarities, Danilo can offer something different. He can offer an improvement and at a club such as Real Madrid, there is always room for improvement.

Although the same age and at a similar stage of their development, Danilo offers more physicality than Carvajal as a defender. The Spaniard is no pushover, for sure, but Danilo is a relative giant is stature at the back. While height may not be the most crucial attribute for a full-back, it is certainly useful. Pace does not make way for that height, either, with the former Porto man more than capable of matching his competition for pace.

The major stand-out difference from the few games we have seen the summer recruit play in so far this season is in attack. Carvajal can link well with the attack but, without wanting to draw the stereotype, Danilo offers a more Brazilian way of thinking from the back. A more right-sided version of Marcelo. A defender with an eye for an assist and an eye for goal, as he showed with Porto last term.

That has yet to come to fruition in the white of Madrid but it must have entered the club's thinking when they paid so much money for the player. With just three league appearances under his belt so far, Danilo needs time to adjust to his new teammates and before long the hope, and expectation, will be that he can chip in with his fair share of goals and assists, as Marcelo did on the other flank at the weekend.

He is also more versatile than Carvajal. Although Benitez has an abundance of options in the middle, Danilo has played in midfield before and can comfortably help out in that position, be it out wide or through the centre.

Not only will he bring individual qualities to the team, but his presence has certainly had an impact on Carvajal so far this term. When the Brazilian's signing was announced last season the Spaniard suffered a dip in form, perhaps a kick in confidence after being one of the first names on the teamsheet. Now it seems to have stirred him up. Whoever is first choice, Benitez is certainly the kind of coach to rotate and keep legs fresh. That competition can only be a good thing.

Danilo's return to first-team action was only a good thing for Madrid at the weekend and now the Brazilian will be hoping to string some appearances together to show Madridistas what he is really made of.

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