Right after the international break, coach Julen Lopetegui will not only have a tough match, but a tough decision to make. Against Athletic in Bilbao, should he spare Casemiro, his pressing machine, from his third match in eight days, as he played for Brazil in two friendlies in the US?
That could be a good option in order to have a solid Real Madrid XI against Roma, for the first group stage match in the Champions League. But falling twice in a year against a bitter rival at San Mamés stadium is too expensive a cost.
In April, in-between two semifinal matches against Juventus, the decision to sit Casemiro on the bench cost two points to Zidane’s team at the same stadium. Cristiano Ronaldo tied the battle at 1-1 at the 87th minute, when the Spanish title, conquered by Barcelona some months later, was already too far from the “blancos”.
The Spanish press says Casemiro might be off duty because he only had two training sessions before Saturday’s match in the Basque country. I believe that is enough to confirm him, unless the imminence of an injury is detected, otherwise Madrid would play with Llorente in his spot or a very aggressive and light midfield trio, with Kroos, Modric and Isco.
This second option seems too unaware of Athletic’s qualities, which are also to face a test against Madrid: in the two La Liga matches played (a win over Leganés and a draw with Huesca; their match with Rayo Vallecano was postponed), the Basques have shown good possession and attacking variety, insofar as they have not had the experienced forward Aritz Aduriz . However, they have not played a true contender yet either.
All the other internationals who played for their teams in UEFA Nations League are bound to start. That means Modric, Varane, Ramos, Isco, Asensio and Courtois, who is set to take Keylor Navas’ position for the second time in a row.
After his season start and the stunning first personal goal for Spain (in the 6-0 over Croatia), Asensio seems undisputable as left forward. Not only he has shown skills, but he also improved Bale’s and Benzema’s game. The French striker scored five goals in four official matches this season, while the Welshman has become the engine behind the attacks. So far, nobody is deeply regretting Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence, but that will surely come later in the Liga.
Why do I say that? Because this is a transition in Madrid, and the media has not stopped speculating about when a new star will arrive at the Barajas airport – there are talks about Neymar going on even after the closure of the transfer window.
For Florentino Perez’s administration, the squad available for Lopetegui seems insufficient for the marketing dreams and the spectre Madrid must project over the world. By not giving enough credit to the talents already there, the feeling that the Bernabéu lacks a star is widespread and living. And the loss to Atlético Madrid in the UEFA Supercup still hurts.