James time! Colombian can show his worth as Ronaldo & Bale miss out

The midfielder came off the bench to set up Real's winner for Alvaro Morata against Sporting and has earned the right to start as others are absent


James Rodriguez has waited patiently. Apart from the injured Fabio Coentrao and the young striker Mariano Diaz, the Colombian is the only outfield player in Real Madrid's squad without a start this season. But that is set to change on Sunday - and it is no more than he deserves.

There was much doubt in the summer over whether the €80 million midfielder would remain for a third season at Real. Coach Zinedine Zidane fielded numerous questions over the player's future and always maintained that he would stay. In the end, he did - even though the Frenchman's backing was far from convincing at times.

Five games into the season, James is yet to be included in the starting line-up by his boss. The Colombian has featured for only 94 minutes in total in the current campaign - and exactly half of those came in the UEFA Super Cup when he was sent on in the latter stages and ended up playing extra time as a number of Madrid's senior stars were unavailable.

In La Liga, he has appeared as a substtitute in two out of the three Madrid matches - and he has played his part in them both. In the 3-0 win at Anoeta on the opening weekend, his precise pass set up Gareth Bale for the third goal against Real Sociedad in added time and in the 2-1 victory at home to Celta Vigo he hustled in the move that led to Toni Kroos' fine winner. He did not feature at all in the weekend win over Osasuna.

But in the Champions League clash at home to Sporting CP on Wednesday night, the Colombian proved decisive again as his curling cross set up Alvaro Morata for the winner deep into added time. It was a moment of real quality that had been lacking for most of the night - and it showed just how useful he can be.

"At the moment James isn't starting," Zidane said afterwards. "But he can start at any moment. What I value is the day to day and James is working well. This time he came on and made the difference. I'm very happy with him."

The problem he has is that when fit, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are automatic selections - along with Karim Benzema or Morata - and both of the wingers want to play 90 minutes. And in midfield, the trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos is Zidane's preferred pick. James has less defensive discipline than those three and also others like Mateo Kovacic - so that leaves little room for the Colombian.

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Nevertheless, it was working just fine in his first season at the club. With Carlo Ancelotti in charge, James started regularly alongside Modric and Kroos and was a revelation in his debut campaign. If he can repeat that early promise, he surely has a bright future at the club.

“James can be the player he was in his first year here," Zidane said on Saturday. "He is training really well. He is important in this team and the important thing is that I see him in really good shape. He is involved, he wants to play, as they all do. That's normal. He will have his minutes, for sure, and he will bring what he has to bring to this team."

And that moment has now arrived. Zidane confirmed that both Ronaldo and Bale will miss out on Sunday against Espanyol - the Portuguese with a sore throat and the Welshman after picking up a knock on Wednesday. So James at long last should start - and now it is down to him to show all the quality he has promised in his brief appearances this term as Madrid chase a club record 16 straight wins in La Liga.