Eibar (Spain): Spanish football giants Real Madrid’s head coach Rafael Benitez faces a selection problem as his side prepares to face Eibar in La Liga at the tiny Ipurua Stadium here on Sunday.
The clash between the sides with the biggest and smallest budget in the league was always going to be a fascinating affair, but it has taken on even greater significance following Real’s 0-4 thrashing at home against Barcelona last week and their defeat to Sevilla two weeks earlier.
Those defeats have put coach Benitez and club president Florentino Perez in the spotlight. And although Perez gave his backing to Benitez last Monday, a third league defeat in the Basque region of Eibar would do untold damage to Benitez’s credibility.
Real regained some confidence with a 4-3 win away to Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek in the Champions League, but even there fans were dismayed to see how they gave their rivals a lifeline by conceding three late goals.
Benitez lost central defender Rafael Varane to a hamstring injury on Wednesday and he joins Marcelo and Sergio Ramos on the injury list. That means Nacho Fernandez will have to play in central defense and either Danilo or Dani Carvajal will play out of position on the left.
Isco is also out after being suspended for his lunge at Barcelona striker Neymar last week.
Benitez has to decide whether he goes for the attacking formation of James Rodriguez, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, which flopped against Barcelona or play hard-tackling Casimiro in central midfield.
If he plays Casimiro, as seems likely, the next decision will be which of his forwards to leave out, with James and Benzema the main candidates.
Eibar are enjoying a fine season and despite their low budget, the Basques are currently sixth in the table with just two defeats all season.
The fact those defeats came against top sides, Barcelona and second placed Atletico Madrid show the size of the task awaiting Real for a game in which anything other than a win will be viewed as a catastrophe.