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Zidane's rigid starting XI should not be seen as a snub to others - yet

Players such as Casemiro, Mateo Kovacic and Lucas Vazquez have seen their time on the pitch drop under Zinedine Zidane but with the matches set to come thick and fast the Frenchman's policy on rotation will come to the fore.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

One thing that was plainly evident during Rafa Benitez's brief time in charge of Real Madrid was his desire to rotate the squad. Whether Zinedine Zidane will offer his squad the same amount of time on the pitch remains to be seen.

Benitez came under scrutiny and question for a number of things, things that ultimately cost the coach his job at the Santiago Bernabeu, but a need to rotate Madrid's star players through a long season was something plenty agreed with.

Benitez took on a squad that was used to playing with a similar eleven week-in, week-out under Carlo Ancelotti, a coach who stuck rigidly with his first-choice line-up. Some put that down to the coach and some put that down to pressure from above, namely from president Florentino Perez. Either way, Benitez looked to do things differently.

While the front three would always start if they were fit and available, Benitez tinkered with the rest of his pack. Indeed, the Spaniard pioneered the rotation system at Valencia and Liverpool and after Madrid tired in the second half of last season while Barcelona swept up title after title, Benitez's philosophy looked well matched.

There were doubts over Luis Enrique when he changed his team during the first half of last season but that approach ultimately paid off with fresh legs at the Camp Nou guiding the Catalans to an historic treble. At the same time, Madrid players such as Toni Kroos complained of fatigue when Ancelotti refused to rest some of his leading stars.

That new approach was in full motion earlier this season, with players who seemed like back-up at the start of the campaign getting more minutes than expected. Players such as Casemiro, Mateo Kovacic, Danilo, Lucas Vazquez and even big-money arrival Danilo. Few could predict Benitez's starting eleven from one week to the next.

Now Zidane seems to have reverted to Ancelotti's way of thinking. Injuries and suspensions have forced some changes for the Frenchman but his preferred starting eleven seems clear: Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Isco, Kroos, Modric; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.

It may still be early days under the Zidane regime but some of those players are already feeling the favouritism of their coach. Casemiro has played just 20 minutes, with the game already having been won against Espanyol last weekend, while Kovacic played 25 minutes in the home thrashing of Sporting Gijon. Carvajal has been preferred to Danilo and, despite Gareth Bale's injury absence, Vazquez has not had a look-in with Jese being preferred in attack.

Madrid's early exit from the cup has not helped. Had Los Blancos added four Copa del Rey matches to their fixture calendar in January (two legs in both the quarter-final and semi-finals), things may have been different. Zidane may have rotated. Given the absence of those matches, and Madrid's relatively ‘comfortable' January league schedule, it is perhaps understandable that a relatively rigid starting eleven has been preferred.

This is Zidane wanting to cement his preferred eleven while he can and before the ‘business end' of the season. The Frenchman was not a newcomer at the club, he knew the players and he probably knew the players he wanted to play well before taking charge of his first match.

The fixture calendar provided the opportunity to get his ‘new-look' team to gel in relatively straightforward watches. Deportivo, Sporting Gijon and Espanyol at home were always going to be three of the more comfortable-looking matches for Madrid, while a trip to Real Betis should have also produced three points.

All is not lost for a group of ‘back-up' players who can hold their heads high after their performances in the first half of the season, however. With the Champions League returning this month, Zidane will have to think more carefully about who plays and who rests. With the end of the season comes tired legs and that will also have to be taken into consideration.

Zidane's failure to give a large amount of minutes to Casemiro and company should not be seen as a snub. The Frenchman will be well aware of the performances of all of his squad before he took over from Benitez and players such as Casemiro, Kovacic and Vazquez in particular stood out. They will get their fair share of time on the pitch in the coming months.

In particular, the matches against Athletic Club and Celta Vigo, both at the Bernabeu, will provide an insight into Zidane's thinking. Those matches come just days before the Champions League matches against Roma and the Madrid coach will want his troops fully charged against tricky opponents. With Barcelona seven points clear in La Liga, the Champions League may well be Madrid's best chance of silverware this term.

There are also two midweek matchdays coming up, meaning three matches in the space of a week. This is where players such as Casemiro, Kovacic and Vazquez will prove their worth.

The Madrid squad may have to get used to a more rigid starting eleven at the hands of Zidane gut the squad players will still have a big part to play if the club is to enjoy any kind of success this season - and beyond.

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