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Is Bale back in contention with 5 goals from 4 starts? Zidane has 5 players to fill 2 spots !
The final is going to be very evenly matched though Real have more experience in the competition, the Reds are arguably the best team in the competition. So coach Zidane is not taking anything for granted and must select the best team he can if they are to win a third straight Champions League final. Zidane is very likely to trust his usual midfielders and defenders but who will play in support of Ronaldo?
Zidane has serious options going forward and he has five players to fill two spots behind star player Cristiano Ronaldo, who is expected to start as striker. These include Benzema, Bale, Isco, Vasquez and Asensio.
But who to start? Zidane must decide whether to play with Isco and Benzema in support of Ronaldo or with the BBC of Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo but he could simply go with Asensio, Isco and Ronaldo as he did in the semi-final against Bayern Munich. As we can see below, Zidane has not started the same trio in consecutive “big” games this year.
Starting forwards for Real in the major games in 2018
The legendary BBC of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo is long out of favour for coach Zidane. In the last two months, the BBC have started only 1 game together, against Barcelona in the El Clasico earlier this month. In fact the starting pair of Bale and Benzema has been a rarity for Real in all the big games this year apart from in the clash against Barcelona.
Is Gareth Bale back in contention for a starting spot?
Gareth Bale has made a serious case for himself recently as he battles for a starting place in the final. The Welshman has scored 5 goals in his last 4 starts for Real - though none of those were in the Champions League. However, his chances to earn a starting spot in the final remain slim or 50/50 at best.
Zidane on Bale: “he has scored many goals recently and has been playing very well”
The coach has been full of praise for the Welshman after his recent good run but there is still a feeling that he does not fully trust him enough to give him the starting spot. It could all change but Bale faces very stiff competition from Isco and Asensio. In the game last weekend against Villarreal, Zidane started with both Isco and Bale in support of Ronaldo - just to add to the speculation - though it looks like he is trying out all his options before the final.
The only recent start in the Champions League was against Juventus in the second-leg of the quarters but he was subbed at half time after a very poor performance. Asensio was called to the rescue but Real still lost 3-1 though they qualified 4-3 on aggregate. The fact is, Bale has been on the fringes of the big games this season and in particular in 2018 but his downfall started at the end of last season.
ln 2017 final against Juventus, the BBC was no longer first choice but instead Zidane started with Isco, Benzema and Ronaldo. That was the beginning of the descent for Bale and consequently the collapse of the infamous BBC.
Bale played just 13 minutes of the final compared to the entire game against Atlético Madrid in the 2016 final when Real won on penalties and the BBC was still a force to be reckoned with in Europe. Bale's stats in the Champions League show why he is out of favour.
The BBC scored 20 goals between them in the Champions League that season, with Ronaldo scoring 16 of those, Benzema 4, and Bale scoring none in 8 appearances. Last season Bale scored only 2 goals in the competition and has managed just one goal in 6 games this term. That surely justifies why he has not started many games in the Champions League and why he has fallen down the pecking order.
Most probable to start in attack: Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo
We believe Zidane will opt for Isco, Benzema and Ronaldo. Cristiano Ronaldo will play as striker after a magnificent run where he scored in the first ten games of the campaign, becoming the first player to do so. The only team he did not score against was Bayern Munich. With 15 goals from 12 games, Ronaldo will be desperate to score in another final.
Ronaldo has won all four finals he has played in and scored 4 goals in three of those games, including a double in last years final against Juventus. He also scored in the 2014 final against Atlético Madrid and in the 2008 final with Manchester United when they beat Chelsea. The 33-year-old Portuguese international will be aiming to become the first player to win 5 Champions League finals.
Though Isco is also not certain to start and is also fighting for a highly coveted starting spot, he played an excellent game and showed his class with a cracking goal in the 6-0 demolition of Celta Vigo 10 days ago. Cutting inside from the left just outside the penalty area, he curled a superb shot into the top-right corner.
Zidane on Isco : “he can do things very few players can do”
Isco was absolutely amazing last season. His dribbling skills, his close ball control and technique make him a special player but he has been a little out of shape this season and has, like Bale, been inconsistent. In 10 appearances in the Champions League he has not scored and provided only 2 assists but he has been strong defensively having made 6 tackles and recovered 15 balls. The 26-year-old Spain international has a reliable passing game though and has completed 90% of his passes, 563/621.
Zidane may want to start with Benzema because he provides the most efficient work for striker Ronaldo and can also score in the big games as seen with his double against Bayern Munich in the second leg of the semi-final. His work rate is very good and he links up very well with the midfield. Benzema started the last two big games against Barcelona and Bayern and in 4 of the past 6 Champions League games.
Zidane can in any case count on any of the three forwards who don't start to add to Real's attack during the game should things not go to plan. He will be able to rely on Asensio's deadly pace and majestic ability to drive past defenders on the left, on Bale's recent explosive form and the sound all-round game of Vasquez - all able to bring added-value from the bench.