Forward-line form gives Ancelotti a selection headache

Posted by Rob Train

Denis Doyle/Getty ImagesAngel Di Maria's place is the one under the greatest threat.

Gareth Bale is expected to make his Bernabeu debut Sunday when Getafe pop across town for a capital city derby, guaranteeing more backsides on seats than would otherwise lift themselves off a sofa for a match that should hold very few surprises. La Geta haven't beaten Real Madrid north of the Manzanares river since February 2008, but did provide one of the first nails in the coffin of the Jose Mourinho regime last season with a 2-1 win at the Coliseum in the second round of fixtures.

The Welshman was keen to point out at his presentation that he will happily play wherever Carlo Ancelotti wants him to and so far he has proved versatile, occupying the right wing against Villarreal but interchanging with Cristiano Ronaldo when required, and replacing Isco against Galatasaray midweek in a slightly more central role, from where he played a part in two goals.

The trouble with Real's time-honoured policy of stacking the deck with scintillating attacking talent is that they can't field the lot at the same time. Although Florentino Perez was keen to state at a presentation Friday that Mesut Ozil's departure had been engineered by his advisers and not the club, there is little doubt that the arrival of Isco and Bale ushered the German toward the door.

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And despite the obvious loss of the playmaker's trickery and phenomenal assist rate, Ancelotti was done a favour. Part of Perez's plan for Real in the medium term is to integrate a few Canteranos -- Nacho, Jese and Alvaro Morata -- into a team that has featured none since the beginning of the year, except the returning Dani Carvajal. The presence of these three on the bench this season won't leave room for much else in attacking terms and neither Ozil nor Bale could reasonably be omitted from a match day squad considering their status and price tags. Whatever the truth behind the German's departure, it was as ruthless and necessary a piece of business as Perez has ever pulled off, and a record fee for an outgoing Real player.

The team that was on the field when the final whistle sounded in Istanbul may well be the same one that starts against Getafe, but there are many in-form players in the glamour positions at the moment and crowbarring Bale into the lineup flies somewhat in the face of the "form-versus-name" argument surrounding Iker Casillas.

Isco has stated his case to be an automatic starter with a brilliant opening to his Real Madrid career and Cristiano Ronaldo, the world's highest-paid player lest we forget, is absolutely unbenchable. Karim Benzema started the season with the air of nonchalance, bordering on disinterest, that the Bernabeu has come to expect but still has two league goals, two assists and a brace in the Champions League. Against Galatasaray he put in the hard yards as well, an encouraging sign that Ancelotti has found the "play" button on the Frenchman's back that eluded Manuel Pellegrini and Mourinho.

But therein lies another, albeit happy, dilemma for Ancelotti. Benzema is a Perez favourite but eminently droppable when he is off-key. In his current form, Benzema is sounding all the right notes in adapting to the Italian's game plan.

This essentially leaves the right flank, and the position of Angel di Maria. The Argentinean was basically hawked around Europe during the summer and apparently offered to Spurs as part of the Bale deal, and therefore has every right to feel slightly venomous toward the club. But Di Maria has instead applied himself to earning a place in the starting 11, an undertaking that has been largely faultless in Real's opening matches: He was the best player on the field against Granada and excellent in Istanbul.

"Gareth Bale joined the team to play in my position," Di Maria told Argentinean radio in an interview. "I will try to give my best to remain in the starting 11. Carlo Ancelotti told me that whoever is in better form will play. I decided to stay at Real Madrid despite the players being signed because I believe I have enough quality."

Games such as Sunday's are a chance to give players minutes, but those should be going at the moment to the left-backs, Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao, as they seek match fitness, and Asier Illarramendi, who has been called upon to replace Xabi Alonso in the 11 rather faster than anybody had imagined and will be needed in upcoming matches where the Basque's reassurance will be missed.

The presence -- or otherwise -- of Bale or Di Maria in the team is tactically the least of Ancelotti's concerns. Politically, though, it could be another Casillas. The crowd loves Di Maria's street-style football and his work rate. But Bale needs to be fielded -- it is as simple as that.


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