Villarreal vs Real Madrid Mariano could be set for his first start
Real Madrid visit the Estadio de la Ceramica on Saturday plagued by absences.
Karim Benzema doesn’t look likely to play, with Wednesday game against Inter in Zinedine Zidane’s mind, and he trained away from his teammates on Friday. Luka Jovic, additionally, is out of action after testing positive for COVID-19, leaving only one option to lead the line.
Mariano Diaz hadn’t played a single minute until coming on for 14 at Mestalla, but now he could be in line to start. If Zidane chooses to play with a No.9, it will be Mariano with two players on either side of him. There are, though, a number of options the coach has to consider.
One of those could be to play Isco higher than usual and without a recognised centre-forward, leaving him as a false nine with two players on either side. Otherwise, he could play as the second striker, as he did in the Supercopa de Espana in Jeddah.
Martin Odegaard is another of the players who, given the absences, will start at Villarreal. He hasn’t played a single minute since Norway’s game against Romania was suspended due to a case of coronavirus in the squad, leaving him to return to Spain on Monday.
Without Casemiro, Zidane can line up with Luka Modric, Isco, Toni Kroos, Odegaard, Eden Hazard and Mariano, as well as one of Marco Asensio, Rodrygo Goes or Vinicius Junior.
Zidane tends to play the non-internationals in the game after a break, almost as a reward for those who had spent the previous week working under his orders, making it more likely that Mariano and Isco will start.
Vinicius travelled to Brazil but didn’t play a single minute in either of their qualifiers, meaning he’s fresher than some of the other internationals.
Zidane, although he’s thinking about Villarreal, isn’t forgetting about Inter at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. That could be a reason to ease Hazard back into things, as starting him too soon after returning from his positive COVID-19 test could be a risk.