What a difference a year makes: 373 days ago in Santa Clara, Gareth Bale started in the International Champions Cup tie against Manchester United, before which, Jose Mourinho, in the pre-match press conference, questioned whether he was part of Real Madrid’s future plans and opened the door for him to a move to Old Trafford.
Now the Welshman prepares to start the same fixture, but he does so in a very different position. With Ronaldo in Turin and with Real failing to bring in another star of a similar magnitude, Bale is the new leading man of the Lopetegui era – which begins in earnest against Atletico Madrid in 15 days’ time.
The new coach has asked Bale where he wants to play and tonight the Welshman will play on the right, but with absolute freedom to drop in as a center forward if or when he wants.
Lopetegui wants to build around Bale and will unleash Vinicius on the left with Benzema in the Number 9 role. And so with the bbC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) now extinct, the BBV is born, with the young Brazilian playing in the space left void by Ronaldo in yesterday’s closed-door training match. Behind the front three were Ceballos and Marcos Llorente, two players whom Lopetegui hopes to bring more out of than Zidane could.
There will be other fresh faces in the game tonight. Odriozola will make his debut. We will see Pajarito Valverde, a Uruguayan gem yet to be discovered, while De Tomas or Mayoral could come off the bench at some point to replace Benzema. With nine home-grown young players travelling to Miami, it will be more like a youth team tonight, as World Cup returnees (Asensio, Nacho, Lucas, Carvajal, Keylor y Kroos) are ikely to be left out.
Mourinho too will be without key players like Lukaku, Pogba, Fellaini, Lingard and Rashford. His team, comprised mainly of second-choice players and inexperienced youth, were thrashed 4-1 by Liverpool last Saturday and have drawn their other three games against America (1-1), San Jose Earthquakes (0-0) and AC Milan (1-1).
But Real Madrid will know that a Mourinho side should never be taken lightly.
Possible Real Madrid Lineup:
4-3-3: Lunin (GK); Theo, Odriozola, Vallejo, Javi Sanchez (Defence); Llorente, Valverde, Ceballos (Midfield); Bale, Benzema, Vinicius (Forwards)