clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Who will Benitez opt in the midfield for the match against Villarreal?

Rafa Benitez is set to have an embarrassment of attacking riches at his disposal for Sunday night's match at El Madrigal. Who's in and who's out?

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Sunday's trip to El Madrigal to face Villarreal may not quite breach into the ‘key matches' category for Real Madrid but it provides one of the sternest tests of the season for Rafa Benitez and his freescoring men.

The Yellow Submarines may have seen their form dip to inconsistent levels of late following a jet-heeled start to the season but Marcelino's men have already shown that they're a match for anybody on home soil.

Victories over Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao in front of their own fans means Benitez and his staff will not be taking the sixth-placed side lightly as Madrid look to make it six wins on the spin in all competitions and continue rebuilding confidence following a rocky few weeks.

The match is no El Clasico or El Derbi but it fits into the second tier of difficulty for Los Blancos on paper. Villarreal will be one of the sides contending for a European place this season and they held Madrid to a damaging 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu last season in a match they could have won.

Benitez at least has a healthy squad to choose from. Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane are continuing their recoveries from injury, with Danilo and Pepe set to keep their places in the starting eleven. In attack, however, the Madrid boss has a full compliment of players to select from. Firepower will not be in short supply.

But with a healthy squad brings healthy competition and a healthy selection headache from the Blancos boss. Gareth Bale sat out the midweek 8-0 thrashing of Malmo in the Champions League but is set to return to the ‘BBC' alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, who scored seven goals between them against the Swedish outfit.

That leaves Benitez with a three-man midfield and with five viable options. With the Champions League taking a break until the new year and Madrid out of the Copa del Rey, there is little need to rest players with just three matches between now and the end of 2015. Benitez may well show his strongest attacking hand at El Madrigal.

Luka Modric also sat out the midweek European match but if the Croatian is fully fit he is expected to be the first name down in the Madrid midfield given his diversity. His engine, defensive nous and attacking threat complete a cocktail of qualities Los Blancos cannot afford to miss out on. He is the man that makes Madrid tick this season.

That leaves two positions spare and Benitez will perhaps take into account that Madrid's opponents played in a heavy six-goal draw at Viktoria Plzen on Thursday night. The match itself will have taken plenty out of Marcelino's men and the trip, just three days before the league clash, will only add to any fatigue.

There will be a temptation to play Kroos given his ball-keeping abilities but the German has not been in form this season and the fixture may not be the ideal opportunity to help bring his confidence back. Forthcoming home matches against Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad, with respect, are better suited for that.

Politics may also dictate who starts but in the midst of the recent problems president Florentino Perez promised Benitez has complete freedom over who to choose. If that's the case, Casemiro is likely to continue in the middle - and rightly so.

There were plenty of questions asked as to why the Brazilian was not used in El Clasico and that 4-0 embarrassment may prompt Benitez to give the former Castilla man an extended opportunity in the middle - especially in a match away from home against a top-six side. It worked against Atletico and some strength in the middle should work against Marcelino's side.

Casemiro has shown he is more just about ball-winning and strength in the middle of the park, however. Against Malmo he showed some attacking verve, verve that was evident with his superb assist for Gareth Bale against Real Betis in Madrid's very first home match of the season. The Brazil international is growing by the game.

As has been the case since the Colombian's arrival at the club in 2014, James Rodriguez and Isco are likely to fight it out for the final piece in the jigsaw. A three-man midfield of Kroos, Modric and Casemiro is possible but with Isco back from suspension, some extra attacking impetus is likely.

The Spaniard contributed two assists against Malmo in midweek and while the form has James has yet to reach the heights of last season, Isco's form has also been hit and miss. With the defensive mind of Casemiro and the engine of Modric alongside him, Benitez and Madrid can afford to go with James in a bid for the Colombia attacker to regain last season's form. He has showed it in a few matches this season, albeit not enough, and Madrid need the former Monaco man at the top of his game if the team is to enjoy success this season.

Sunday night's match will be a good indicator of which players will play lead roles this season.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Managing Madrid Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Real Madrid news from Managing Madrid