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James should be the man to replace injured Bale

Zinedine Zidane must decide who will replace Gareth Bale while the Welshman is out injured, and although his preference seems to be with Jese, James deserves his chance.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Just as Gareth Bale started to return to the kind of form that resulted in Real Madrid splashing the cash on the Welsh-wizard, Lady Luck turned a blind eye as another calf injury forced him on to the sidelines.

The former Tottenham Hotspur man was said to be disappointed at Rafa Benitez's departure as coach but showed no signs of failing to connect with the incoming Zinedine Zidane with a hat-trick in the Frenchman's first game at the helm.

A goal in the following match saw the press and fans back onside with the jet-heeled forward but now, again, Bale will sit frustratingly on the sidelines after coming off at half-time in that 5-1 win against Sporting.

Bale is expected to be back in time for Madrid's Champions League last-16 first leg clash in Rome but in the meantime Zidane will need to look elsewhere to plug the attacking gap. Mainly, the Madrid legend will be looking at two players who had endured plenty of problems under his predecessor.

James and Jese both sport the same surname and both will be fighting for the chance to feature in the coming games against Real Betis, Espanyol, Granada and Athletic Club, subject to Bale's fitness. Both players are desperate for time on the pitch to impress Zidane, become part of his and the club's plans, and get their respective careers back on the right path.

Zidane will be looking over both - as well as Lucas Vazquez - in training this week with the aim of sufficiently replacing Bale in Seville on Sunday night. These five training days will be crucial for both players and the impact they make on ‘Zizou' in the coming days could well even have a lasting impact on their long-term futures in the Spanish capital.

Jese, it seems, is the man who has the early advantage. Bale was stretchered off just seven minutes into last weekend's victory over Sporting and the man Zidane turned to to replace the goalscorer was the Las Palmas-born forward. Both James and Jese were stuck on the bench for the match but it was Jese who Zidane turned to form part of the front three.

Perhaps Sunday's match was telling. Not only did Jese come on to plug the gap in the front three but Zidane also used James as a direct replacement in midfield to replace Isco. As has been the case through the season, it seems James and Isco are the ones fighting the battle to start, not James and Jese.

Indeed, the Colombian has been used deeper by Madrid ever since his big-money move from Monaco in the summer of 2014. While the former Porto man prefers to play further forward, as he does with his country, the ‘BBC' has formed a seemingly unbreakable relationship in attack and James has been forced to make do with a place in midfield.

"It's true I play a little deeper for Real Madrid. I can push a little further forward for Colombia," he said last season.

"I hope to play where I feel most comfortable and help the team to win. I feel more comfortable where I play for Colombia because I like to be closer to the goal; that works better for me. I can score and pass from there but, as a player, I have to be prepared to play in any position."

Jese was not only preferred to James as part of the front three last weekend, he was the man who replaced Bale after he scored his hat-trick in the 5-0 thumping of Deportivo La Coruna the week before. It seems as though Zidane has got a good idea of where he wants his squad to play.

Let's not forget that the Frenchman is not a new coach coming in from outside the club. Not only will he have seen the players at the club's Valdebebas training base on a daily basis as coach of Castilla, the club's second team, but he was also part of Carlo Ancelotti's coaching staff as Los Blancos won the Champions League in 2013-14. He will already know the squad inside out and have his beliefs on what works best.

That seems to have given Jese the edge and, if you're a betting man, you wouldn't bet against Jese being the man to be handed more time on the pitch in Bale's absence. James, however, has plenty to offer and should be given a fair crack of proving himself after a difficult campaign so far.

The Colombian has admittedly had problems this season, both performance wise and also off the pitch, if reports are to be believed. James has gone from fan favourite for his performances and his golden smile last season to a player who seems to add problems, not solutions, to the club - at least in the press and public eye. He needs the chance to change those opinions.

There should be no forgetting James' performances for Madrid last season. Despite the high price tag for a player the squad seemingly did not need, James shone. Arguably, he out-performed Bale and many of his teammates and as a relatively young member of the squad his future at the Santiago Bernabeu seemed to be nothing but bright.

There should also be no forgetting the reason Madrid bought him for a huge price in the first instance - his performances playing further forward for Colombia. While undoubtedly he is a bigger fish in a smaller, albeit still big pond, with his country, those performances lit the World Cup and last season he proved through goals, assists and all-round performances that he can produce those performances in the all white of Madrid.

Now he has suffered his first ‘dip' and should be offered the chance to right any wrongs in the coming weeks. Perhaps a desire to show he still has what it takes to succeed at Madrid is what he needs to return to the top-drawer performances that brought him to the club in the first place.

There will be those, seemingly including Zidane, who will push for Jese to make a name for himself in Bale's absence and argue that James' off-the-pitch antics should cost him his chance. The Colombian still has plenty to offer Madrid, however, and should be offered the chance to prove it.

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