Champions League final: Bale well-placed to start in Kiev
Zinedine Zidane's team selection ahead of the 2016 and 2017 Champions League finals suggests Gareth Bale could well line up against Liverpool.
In a season in which Real Madrid have fallen well short of expectations in LaLiga and the Copa del Rey, winning the Champions League in Kiev would not only rescue the side's campaign, but make it one that would go down in history.
And when it comes to managing his playing resources ahead of Real's bid to claim a 13th European title, there's one adage which, it appears, boss Zinedine Zidane does not need to be reminded of: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. In each of the past two seasons, he has used Los Blancos' last fixture of the LaLiga campaign as a kind of dress rehearsal for his Champions League final XI, going on to give the same personnel the nod - almost to a man - in the showpiece event.
Two consecutive continental crowns later, it's fair to say it's a tactic which has served him well - and this year the indications are that he's sticking to the plan.
Same line-up against Deportivo and Atlético
Zidane first put it into action in 2016's final-weekend LaLiga clash at Deportivo La Coruña. That day at Riazor, Real won 2-0 with their first-choice XI: Navas, Marcelo, Pepe, Ramos, Carvajal, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Bale, Benzema and Cristiano. At the San Siro two weeks later, the same men lined up against Atlético Madrid, and secured the club's 11th European Cup triumph after beating their city rivals on penalties.
12th continental crown sealed in Cardiff
12 months later, 'Zizou' repeated the trick almost to the letter as Real Madrid confirmed their pre-eminence in European and world football with a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Juventus - a triumph that saw Los Merengues become the first side to win two Champions Leagues in a row.
His selection in Cardiff once again mirrored the week 38 LaLiga game that preceded it, with the exception of an injury-enforced change at right-back. Having picked up a hamstring strain against Atlético in the semi-finals, Dani Carvajal had recovered by the time Real faced Juve, but was not fit to play at Málaga a fortnight earlier, Danilo deputising at La Rosaleda.
Navas, Marcelo, Ramos, Varane, Danilo, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Isco, Cristiano and Benzema started in Málaga, and the return of Carvajal was the only alteration to that line-up at the Millennium Stadium.
The same drill against Liverpool in Kiev?
Aside from Zidane's decision to hand a first-team debut to his son Luca, the Frenchman's starting XI at Villarreal on Saturday evening showed all the signs of being as good as identical to the side he is to send out in the Ukrainian capital.
Real Madrid's team at the Estadio de la Cerámica was: Luca, Marcelo, Ramos, Varane, Carvajal, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Isco, Bale and Cristiano. Keylor Navas can be expected to replace Luca at the Olympic Stadium, leaving only one question mark: who will accompany Cristiano in attack, Gareth Bale or Karim Benzema?
Bale was on target in the 2-2 draw and, after a run of eight goals in his last eight LaLiga games, is looking well-placed for inclusion against Liverpool, particularly as Zidane appears to have lost much of the confidence that he's had in Benzema since taking charge at the Bernabéu. His countryman did get half an hour against the Submarino Amarillo, but gave an anonymous performance.
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