Spanish giants Real Madrid played out a disappointing 0-0 draw against newly promoted Sporting Gijon away from home. New boss Rafael Benitez has been put under pressure after Madrid’s dismal display in his first competitive game in charge of the Blancos. Real play their first home game against another newly promoted side, Real Betis, on Saturday. Benitez is expected to make some significant changes in the squad to ensure a decent performance in front of the Bernabeu crowd. Here are the five major things to look out for in Benitez’s second match as a Real Madrid coach.
1) James and Carvajal in, Jese and Danilo out
The exclusion of James and Carvajal from the starting line up of Madrid’s first game was a big shock considering their role in the squad last season. Young Spanish winger Jese Rodriguez and Brazilian newcomer Danilo were preferred to start the game against Gijon, but failed make much of an impact. As a result, both James and Carvajal are expected to start the game against Real Betis and will make a huge difference in Madrid’s performance at the Bernabeu.
2) Benzema returns from injury
Real Madrid missed the presence of Karim Benzema in the first game who has been sidelined due to a thigh injury. Benzema’s knack of being in the right positions and his hold up play was duly missed by Madrid against Gijon. But the French striker is expected to return to the starting XI as reported by Spanish newspaper AS, “Karim Benzema looks set to be ready to return to the Real Madrid side for this weekend’s match against Real Betis at the Bernabeu.”
“Benzema worked with the group during the first part of the training session when the players who started against Sporting trained at a lower intensity level,” reported Madrid.
3) Bale back on the right wing
Garth Bale suffered a disappointing second season with Real Madrid, and was constantly heckled by the Bernabeu. While the Welshman has looked better than last season so far, the no. 10 role with which he has been experimented with so far by Benitez hasn’t worked for him. Bale needs space to use his explosive pace against his opponents, and with James expected to return to the squad, Bale will be operating from his favoured right wing against Betis.
4) Madrid’s first competitive game at the Bernabeu without the presence of Iker Casillas
It has been 16 years since Real Madrid last played a game at the Bernabeu without the presence of Iker Casillas in the squad. The iconic Spaniard left his childhood club to play for Porto after reportedly falling out with club president Florentino Perez. Keylor Navas has been given the responsibility of the no.1 jersey at Madrid, and will be under immense pressure to fill in the big boots of Casillas.
5) A slice of history
17 years since Real Betis last defeated Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, a 1-0 victory on October 4th, 1998. Madrid went on to lose the title to Barcelona that season by a massive nine point margin. Will we see a repeat of the one isolated incident?