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El Clasico 2016: Untried Real Madrid Starting XI Reported for Barcelona Showdown

Real Madrid's head coach Zinedine Zidane gives instructions from the sideline during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Sevilla at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, in Madrid, Sunday, March 20, 2016. Real Madrid defeated Sevilla 4-0. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Francisco Seco/Associated Press
Christopher SimpsonFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 11, 2017

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:"

Zidane's Reported Starting XI
PositionPlayers
GoalkeeperKeylor Navas
DefendersDanilo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo
MidfieldersCasemiro, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos
ForwardsCristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale
Marca

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:

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:

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.

Gerado Ojeda/Associated Press

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.

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:

Emerging triumphant will be an incredibly difficult task, and even with Casemiro, keeping all three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar quiet is far from guaranteed.

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.

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