Real Madrid will again be without Cristiano Ronaldo when it makes its season debut at the Bernabeu against Celta Vigo on Saturday. Ronaldo, who scored four times in a 7-1 win for Madrid in this fixture last season, remains sidelined with a knee injury suffered in the final of Euro 2016. And joining the Portuguese on the absentee list will again be French striker Karim Benzema.
But the star duo weren’t missed as Real Madrid made a winning start to the season last week with a comfortable 3-0 victory at Real Sociedad, secured by two goals from Gareth Bale and one in between from Marco Asensio. The rise of the 20-year-old Asensio has been a big boost in the early season absence of Ronaldo and Benzema. But it has also raised questions about the pecking order in the squad when everyone is fit and available.
“There's good depth, the season will be tough and we're going to need all of our players,” manager Zinedine Zidane said ahead of Saturday’s match. “I have 23 or 24 players and they're all going to get a game. Cristiano and Karim aren't playing and there are other players who have done well. When everyone is back, I'll make the decisions about who will play, that's not going to change. I want to be clear, every player is important and it's no surprise that they're all here. If they're playing for Real Madrid, it's because they're very good footballers.”
Competition will increase on Saturday with the return from injury of Luka Modric and Pepe, although Isco has now dropped out after suffering a blow to his ankle in training. Despite those comments from Zidane, he also didn’t rule out players leaving the club before the end of the transfer window next Wednesday. Unquestionably, the player whose future is most certain is James Rodriguez.
Against Real Sociedad, despite all the players unavailable, James was only the third substitute brought on by Zidane, behind not only Asensio but Lucas Vazquez and Isco. Zidane’s comments ahead of the visit of Celta Vigo were hardly reassuring about the Colombian’s future at the Bernabeu.
“James is a Madrid player,” he said. “My answers might seem as though I want James to go, but he's a great player, he's here and he's got a contract. It's true that he's not playing much and that might be a problem, but I try to make all the players feel important and James is no different from the rest. I haven't spoken with James, nor with anyone in particular. I speak to the group”
Celta Vigo coach Eduardo Berizzo would love to have the same selection dilemmas that faced by his counterpart in Madrid. The Argentine led Celta to an impressive sixth place in La Liga last season, however the club lost key figure Nolito to Manchester City over the summer. And without the Spain international, Celta went down 1-0 at home to newly promoted Leganes on the opening weekend of the Primera Division season. Berizzo could be dealt a further blow with last season’s top scorer Iago Aspas an injury doubt for Saturday.
Prediction: A trip to the Bernabeu is far from ideal off the back of a disappointing home defear. Nolito is a massive loss and if Aspas is also missing on Saturday then it is hard to see Celta causing Real Madrid any real trouble defensively. With Bale and Asensio starting the season in fine form and Modric back, it should be another comfortable win for Zidane’s side.
Predicted Score: Real Madrid 3-0 Celta Vigo
Kickoff Time: 2.15 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: beIN Sports
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