Bale benched as Zidane springs Kovacic surprise

Madrid – Croatian Mateo Kovacic was the surprise selection in Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid starting line-up for El Clasico against Barcelona on Saturday as the Frenchman left Gareth Bale and Isco on the bench.

Kovacic hasn't started a La Liga game this season, but did a sterling job man-marking Barca's danger man Lionel Messi as Real thrashed the Catalans 5-1 on aggregate in the Spanish Super Cup back in August.

Isco is the man to drop out from the side that started Real's Club World Cup final win over Gremio last weekend with Cristiano Ronaldo fit despite missing three training sessions this week due to a minor injury.

Bale is also kept in reserve with the Welshman easing himself back to fitness after nearly three months on the sidelines.

Barca haven't been beaten since they last visited the Santiago Bernabeu in the Super Cup and hold a commanding 11-point lead over Real in the title race, although Madrid do have a game in hand.

There were no surprises in Ernesto Valverde's line-up as Thomas Vermaelen continues to deputise for the injured Samuel Umtiti alongside Gerard Pique at the heart of a Barca defence that has conceded just eight goals in their 24-game unbeaten run.

Messi is joined by Luis Suarez in attack with Brazilian international Paulinho supporting from midfield.

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