MADRID (Reuters) – Iker Casillas should have recovered from a fractured hand within the next couple of weeks but the Real Madrid goalkeeper and captain may find himself warming the bench given the fine form of replacement Diego Lopez.
Casillas sustained the injury during a King’s Cup game against Valencia in January when team mate Alvaro Arbeloa kicked his hand while trying to clear the ball.
It was initially feared that the Spain captain might be sidelined until the end of April and Real coach Jose Mourinho immediately brought in Lopez from Sevilla as cover.
The lanky 31-year-old, a former Spain international who came through Real’s youth ranks and had a five-year stint at Villarreal, brilliantly kept Manchester United at bay in Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 second leg.
He also played solidly against Barcelona in Real’s two victories over their arch-rivals in the semi-finals of the King’s Cup and La Liga this month.
Casillas has sometimes been criticised for a weakness against high balls and Lopez, who is almost two metres tall, is seen as more effective against crosses.
While he may not possess the same lightning reactions or athleticism as Casillas, he is a fine shot stopper and a decent ball player.
"Diego Lopez has come here to perform," assistant Real coach Aitor Karanka told a news conference on Saturday previewing Sunday’s La Liga match at Celta Vigo.
"We have great goalkeepers and that is good for the team," added the former Real player, again standing in for Mourinho who rarely speaks before league matches.
"Iker’s recovery is going well and we hope to have him back as soon as possible. The coach will use the players who are in the best form."
Mourinho had already raised eyebrows by dropping Casillas for the league game at Malaga in December, which Real lost 3-2 with then number two keeper Antonio Adan in goal.
The Portuguese coach later said the decision was "purely technical" and appeared to suggest that Adan had been picked because of some poor Casillas performances as Real’s bid for a second straight title faltered.
The champions are 13 points behind leaders Barcelona in third and two adrift of second-placed city neighbours Atletico.
Local media have reported that Mourinho and Casillas have a frosty relationship and if the keeper is again relegated to the bench after his return his future at the club he joined in July 1990 at the age of nine could even start to be questioned.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)
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