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Khedira the man for Bilbao's physical test

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Carlo Ancelotti is weighing-up who to play in midfield at San Mames and if Khedira is ready, the German is the man for a physical battle in the Basque Country.

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Real Madrid have been unchanged in their last three starting line-ups but coach Carlo Ancelotti is thinking about tinkering with his team for Saturday's visit to the Basque Country to take on Athletic Bilbao.

A lack of midweek action of late has allowed the Italian to be consistent in his selection policy. Ancelotti opted to stick instead of twist against Villarreal last weekend and fielded the same line-up as he did for the victories over Schalke and Elche respectively.

Ever since Lucas Silva made his full debut in Gelsenkirchen Ancelotti has held firm with a midfield three of the Brazilian alongside Isco and Toni Kroos. Asier Illarramendi has been limited to the bench while Luka Modric, James Rodriguez and Sami Khedira were in the treatment room.

The front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will start at San Mames and the back four of Dani Carvajal, Pepe, Raphael Varane and Marcelo is expected to remain the same, with Iker Casillas in goal. Ancelotti will, however, ponder his midfield options.

"I will choose between Illarra, Khedira and Lucas Silva," the Madrid coach said in his pre-match press conference after revealing Modric will return for the Schalke match next week. "Lucas Silva and Illarra differ in small details," he went on to add. "I'm playing Lucas because I liked what he is doing."

The former Cruzeiro man enjoyed encouraging outings against Schalke and Elche but his performance in the trickier test against Villarreal drew some criticism. Saturday's trip to Bilbao will fall into the ‘tricky' category too and Ancelotti is mulling over bringing Khedira back in from injury or giving Illarramendi one last bite of the cherry before the return of Modric next week.

Khedira returned to first team training this week and if the German is fit enough to start in Bilbao he is the most likely candidate for Ancelotti to turn to. The former Stuttgart player has been the go-to man for the more physical matches - his last start came against Atletico before he was withdrawn at half-time through injury - and Madrid are in for a physical battle at San Mames. The German's fitness concerns could also play against him - Ancelotti needs to have seen that he's ready in training this week.

Mikel San Jose may be suspended for Athletic but that will mean captain Carlos Gurpegi will move into a holding midfield role alongside Mikel Rico. Both players are ready for a physical battle and both have a wealth of experience. That may tempt Ancelotti to go with Khedira, if fully fit, ahead of Illarramendi and Silva. The former lacks the trust of his manager and the latter is still a newcomer to La Liga.

Khedira may be moving on to pastures new in the summer but Illarramendi's transfer activity may also play a part in Ancelotti's decision. Not only is the Basque midfielder a former Real Sociedad man, but he also rejected a move to play for Ernesto Valverde's men in the winter transfer window so he could be in for some unwanted attention from a vociferous home support.

Silva has played well without shining in two of his three starts so far but Ancelotti may look to give the young Brazilian a rest. Madrid may have had no midweek action but the former Cruzeiro man arrived on the back of a close season in Brazil and he is still reaching full match sharpness. While outings in dominant performances against Schalke and Elche are one thing, trips to a fiery San Mames are another. Whether he is up to the physical battle remains to be seen.

However Ancelotti plays it, it could be the trio's last opportunity to impress their coach before the return of Modric. The Croatian is expected to stroll back into a starting role sooner rather than later - Ancelotti says he should be ready to be part of the squad to face Schalke - and that will set-up a trio of Modric, Isco and Kroos in the middle.