Madrid's triple boost for Villarreal

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Raphael Varane PA PhotosRaphael Varane has returned to fitness for Real Madrid.

Despite a slight concern over Cristiano Ronaldo, who will miss Portugal's friendly against Brazil in Boston on Tuesday but should be okay to feature for Real Madrid at the weekend, Los Blancos boss Carlo Ancelotti should have a welcome selection headache following the international break.

Even if one or two of Real's international contingent return from Tuesday's round of matches with various bumps and bruises, Ancelotti's squad will still be boosted by three players yet to feature this season as he prepares to face in-form Villarreal, who boast a 100 percent record and sit above Madrid on goal difference.

Gareth Bale is set to be included in the Madrid squad for the first time since his record-breaking transfer to the Bernabeu last week (Update: The Wales international has now been sent for a scan on a possible groin injury), and Ancelotti is also expected to have Asier Illarramendi and Raphael Varane available for selection for the first time this term; the pair returned to training following injuries that ruled them out of the opening month of the campaign.

- Ronaldo a doubt for Villarreal clash

Just how match-fit the trio are will come into consideration for Ancelotti, and given Madrid's winning start to the season he may opt for the same starting XI instead of risking players just returning to the training pitch. There will be pressure to give Bale a run-out, if only from the fans and the media from around the world keen to see the Welshman have his first competitive kick in a Madrid shirt, but the Italian is not the kind to bow to that kind of pressure.

The trio will certainly give Ancelotti plenty to think about over the coming days, however. Not a bad selection headache to have, is it? While most of Madrid's star men have been away on international duty, Illarramendi and Varane have both been on the Madrid training pitch, where Ancelotti can get a close-up look at just how the pair have been progressing. Both, along with Bale, are understood to be ready for a return to action.

From the outside, Varane's integration back into first-team affairs should be pretty straightforward - a like-for-like with Pepe. The talented young Frenchman was one of the few plus points in a generally negative campaign for the club last season, coming in to replace the injured Pepe and keeping his place for the remainder of the season thanks to his first-class performances, especially in big games against Barcelona and Manchester United. I say from the outside because Madrid were keen to keep Pepe this summer despite continued interest from Manchester City and it would be no surprise if Ancelotti kept faith with the Portuguese defender as a starter for the time being.

For Illarramendi, Xabi Alonso's unfortunate metatarsal injury should mean a greater chance of more regular time on the pitch in the coming months as Madrid's midfield maestro recovers from his setback. The £34 million man has been brought in to eventually be a like-for-like replacement for Alonso. The middle of the park is an area where Madrid have an embarrassment of riches, however, and Luka Modric has almost made himself one of the first names down on the team sheet given his recent performances. Illarra and Modric in the middle? Possibly, but Ancelotti may be keen to stick with the out-and-out power of Sami Khedira. The summer arrival from Real Sociedad may have to take his chances from the bench in his first few matches.

Time is the only issue with Bale. To spend a world-record fee on a player and to keep him on the bench is unthinkable, but Bale has had little match action, not only at the start of the season but over the summer, too, and that could play a part in when Ancelotti gives the Welshman his long-awaited debut. He can wait a little longer, after all. It would be no surprise to see the former Tottenham Hotspur man given a starting bow at Villarreal, but it's more likely to be an appearance from the bench to ease him back in.

However Ancelotti plays it at El Madrigal, a place where Madrid could only nick a point last time out, he'll welcome back the availability of three players who are set to be the heart of the club for many years to come. Given the start the team has made to the season, a chance to strengthen a winning side with a trio of players of that magnitude should strike fear into the rest of La Liga.


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