Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane will reportedly field a previously unused starting XI in the upcoming El Clasico match with Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
According to Marca's Pablo Polo, there will be no place for Isco or James Rodriguez in midfield, while Pepe will replace Raphael Varane in defence. Here is the starting XI he will use "if everything goes to plan:"
|Defenders||Danilo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo|
|Midfielders||Casemiro, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos|
|Forwards||Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale|
Per Polo, that specific combination of players has not been used this season by either Zidane or his predecessor Rafa Benitez. Casemiro is the most notable inclusion, with Polo adding: "he returned to train with the group after a special training plan following five consecutive games in the team."
Benitez left out the Brazilian in favour of Rodriguez in November's El Clasico at the Bernabeu—a move that backfired spectacularly, as Barca dominated the midfield and isolated Real's attacking stars from the rest of their team, as noted by journalists Sid Lowe and Dermot Corrigan:
Origin of second goal was the massive gap between Modric/Kroos and rest of RM team.— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) November 21, 2015
Rafa will presumably say he picked team everyone wanted - but shape they are in is leaving Kroos & Modric up against 4 or 5. BBC stranded.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) November 21, 2015
Indeed, it seems as though the Spaniard may have succumbed to the pressure to field Rodriguez due to his status as a "Galactico," per Corrigan:
Rafa more or less suggesting he picked XI as wanted to "manage" the "quality players" he has. Leaving out Casemiro was easiest option.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) November 21, 2015
Zidane will have somewhat more leeway with the Madridistas and the powers that be at Los Blancos due to his legendary status with the club, not to mention both Rodriguez and Isco have attracted criticism of late due to some subpar showings, which has seen Casemiro enjoy a run in the team.
While the holding midfielder may not be as glamorous a player as those left on the bench, he will be vital if Real are to get anything at Barca, as he is able to shield the back four, break up play in midfield and give Kroos and Modric the licence to link up with the front three.
What will the result be?
According to Squawka, in 17 La Liga appearances this season, the 24-year-old has made 29 successful tackles, won 29 headed duels and made 27 interceptions. It was in part thanks to his frequent inclusion under Benitez at the start of the campaign that saw Real concede just four goals in their first 14 games in all competitions.
Real have bounced back well from their derby defeat to Atletico Madrid on Feb. 27, winning all five games in March and scoring 18 goals while shipping just two. Of course, they'll be facing a team in even better form, as Football Facts demonstrates:
Barcelona last 39 games:— Football Facts (@FootbalIFact) March 20, 2016
0 Loss pic.twitter.com/9Dd1dMbvBr
His presence should add steel to the side and allow Real's own attacking talent to get involved in the game, though, so at the very least they might be able to avoid the humiliation they suffered last time if not earn a draw.