Contrary to polular belief, big teams like Real Madrid also have problems: an alter ego, the men in black or big amounts of matches in short periods of time can weaken the team's conditions and reduce their possibilities to fight for the titles. This weekend, and thanks -huh?- to the FIFA virus, we have suffered the loss of Sami Khedira, the German Panzer, for the whole season. We will have to content ourselves with the idea that it could be worse, or even much worse, and analyze our alternatives to fix this issue.
As we commented last Friday, Ancelotti seemed to have found his favourite starting lineup: a 4-3-3 system with Alonso, Khedira and Modric on the midfield. His bet on this trio was clear and, so far, was giving us a really good profit. The balance yielded by the coordination and the supplementary conditions of the three of them were an extraordinary supporting point to build both our offensive and defensive systems and, in my opinion, the absence of Sami breaks everything down. There is no player in our team that can give us what Sami does: his tactical discipline is absolutely remarkable, his physical deployment cannot be approached by any other madridista, and he is, possibly, the most gifted merengue in the noble art of pressing and stealing the ball.
Given this, what can our coach do to solve the problem?
1st alternative: Replace Khedira by Casemiro.
This seems the most obvious possibility. Although he has not been used yet as a box-to-box in Real Madrid, Casemiro is the only player in our roster that seems to have the conditions to cover Khedira's spot. His physical basis is outstanding and his tactical knowledge seems to be sufficient. On the other hand, his lack of experience may be a drawback, and possibly he will not be as talented as Khedira on the stealing statistics. Furthermore, he does not seem to be fast, and thus we will lose a bit in offensive and, more importantly, defensive transitions, a feature in which Khedira excels.
2nd alternative: Replace Khedira by Illarramendi.
This option seems quite natural to maintain the 4-3-3, but it involves an absoute change of mentality and style that, perhaps, Ancelotti is not willing to go through. As he has always commented, Illarra is a positional central midfielder, and his natural spot is the one that Alonso occupies. He can play in Sami's position, as he did -very well, in fact- last year in some matches for Real Sociedad or in the U21-Eurocup, but his role inside the team would be totally different. Illarra is not a box-to-box, his body is not prepared to take part in two or three consecutive fast transitions to one area to the other.
If this were the selected option, we should think that the Alonso-Illarra-Modric trio would imitate, at least on the board, the celebrated Busquets-Xavi-Iniesta of Barça's finest years: Alonso would be the positioning, Illarra the conservation of the ball and Modric the disorder and the link with the strikers. This seems a really solid option in static defense, but it would suffer in defensive transitions. The rhythm and speed of our attacking phase should be reduced to incorporate Illarra and Modric to create advantages, and Madrid would need to dominate the game from the possession. The ability of Benzema to connect with the midfield would turn essential in this scheme to open space for Bale and Ronaldo to run, since the counterattacks would be, in theory, less frequent.
3rd alternative: Replace Khedira by Di María.
We have already seen this, and the presentation was not quite good. Definitely, the idea here is to give transitions the highest importance and Di María is quite an asset on this feature. He never surrenders on stealing a ball, his stamina and speed are outrageous and his bravery is undeniable. He is, possibly, our best weapon for counterattacking. However, he lacks the ability of "knowing when to stop". He will always run forwards and not support Xabi for a first short pass, leaving this to Modric and, thus, limiting his nature. Modric needs to receive the ball upfront in order to create advantages, and Di María's entrance would make it really hard for him to do so. If he also went up, Xabi would find himself too alone in the game starting and he would be easier to press by the rival's strikers.
Perhaps Isco would also be an option here, but I can't see how we could maintain a 4-3-3 with Alonso-Modric-Isco and not suffer too much in defense. For him to enter the team, I think we should switch to a 4-2-3-1, giving him the "number 10" role and relegating Modric to a more repressed function in the team, together with Alonso.
Moving back to a 4-4-2, as in our first games this year, could be a chance. With Alonso-Modric in the center, Bale and Isco/Di María on the wings, and Ronaldo-Benzema as strikers, all the pieces seem ready to work but the actual functioning remains unknown.
It is now your turn to come and discuss with us about your preferred alternatives, or to propose some that we have not gone through yet. Please, share your opinions with us!