Zidane's 5 replacement options for Casemiro and Benzema
With the Brazilian and Frenchman out of action for the second leg, Zidane has to look for other combinations to get the required win.
Zinedine Zidane has been keeping a close eye on the fitness of midfielder Casemiro and striker Benzema but has admitted that both will be missing for tonight's crucial game at the Bernabeu. Although there is no doubting the value to the team of the Frenchman, who offers a goal threat ahead of Cristiano, it is the Brazilian that has come to the fore in recent months as a key cog in the Real Madrid midfield wheel. Losing the balance given by Casemiro means that Zizou has a big decision to make to ensure his side joins neighbour Atlético in the Milan final and we've looked at five of those options:
Option 1. Using Isco and Lucas
Probably the most likely choice. Kroos can fulfil the Casemiro role in front of the defence, as he did prior to the Brazilian making the posiiton his own, but it will involve him foregoing his more advanced movements and maintain his holding obligations. Isco would then come in to join the German and Modric in the midfield, and it is he, along with the little Croatian, who would be responsible for keeping control of the ball as the team move forward and finding the deft passes in to the front three. The trident would comprise of Bale, Cristiano and Lucas Vásquez with the latter possibly switching from left to right depending on how the game develops. His attitude and energy could take some of the defensive focus for Man City off the other two forwards creating more space and chances.
A variation of the first combination is to use Jesé in place of Lucas Vásquez. Jesé last featured in the eleven against Rayo and with Cristiano, Bale and him as a front three - maintaining Kroos, Modric and Isco behind - there is enough pace, flexibility and goal threat to give the home fans enough excitement to create a rousing atmosphere.
Zidane may look to keep Isco as a creative alternative from the bench and use Kovacic as the cover for Casemiro in midfield along with Kroos and Modric. This would give Madrid a more physical presence against a likely strong City side to get a hold of the game. The last game in which the manager couldn't call upon his Brazilian linch-pin was in Vallecas and he chose the Croatian, although in that game it was alongside Kroos and Isco (with his compatriot Modric being rested with an eye on the first leg in Manchester). If the French coach does opt for this, he again has to determine whether Lucas or Jesé would better fit the eleven as a joint force.
Often an injury has a ready made replacement but, as we've seen, with both Casemiro and Benzema out the starting eleven has a variety of possibilities, none of which has a conclusively demonstrated success return. James played 73 minutes in the last run out in Anoeta and did so in the middle of the park, this time alongside Casemiro and Modric. Kroos sat it out targeting complete freshness in Europe. The Colombian could get much more involved behind the front three allowing for more bursts into the final third to support them rather than starting from the advanced area. In saying this, that is indeed another option for Zidane, using James as part of the front three.
Putting the Portuguese centre half into the middle of the park is possibly a remote option for Zidane but we should remember what Zidane said in his press conference: "Whoever plays instead of Casemiro knows what he needs to do." And Pepe knows what that role involves. With Mourinho in charge, he was used as a 'weapon' in this position, most notably in the Clásico of 2010-11. If Zizou, a coach with a seemingly contrasting vision on how the game should be played, does go with this option then we'd see Varane come in to partner Ramos in the centre of defence.
With only hours to go until kick-off, we won't have to wait long to see what decisions are made...