It wouldn't be a standard Real Madrid season without at least one (and hopefully just one) key player going down on international duty. This season, the unlucky sod happened to be arguably the club's most important midfielder of the past 1.5 seasons: Luka Modric. Of course, this shouldn't come as a shock given that he's been playing almost nonstop since this season began and, more importantly, the pitch at the San Siro yesterday was GARBAGE, but there's nothing any of us can do about it now and it's up to the boss to try and field a competent replacement in Modric's stead.
So who should Carlo roll with?
At first glance, the natural thought is Isco Alarcon. The size, the dribbling, the workrate are all similarities that the two players share. Isco has been groomed by Carlo to become his all-around CM of the future and has markedly improved the defensive aspect of his game. While quantifying defensive contributions is a tricky proposition and a very imperfect science, Isco does chip in a combined 3.6 interceptions+tackles per game while averaging half a foul committed less than Modric. He brings more of an attacking verve given his days as a winger and attacking midfielder, having already notched five assists this season (three more than Luka) and is averaging only .1 key passes less than Modric so far in many less minutes played. However, despite his growing defensive presence he still doesn't possess the spacing and awareness that Luka does. That's not to say that Isco is a poor defensive contributor, not at all, but it likely won't come as naturally to him as it does with Luka. That being said, his pure workrate in covering Marcelo's runs forward makes him an attractive option.
The second alternative is one which Toni Kroos, the other key midfielder in this lineup, has years of experience playing with in Sami Khedira. Khedira is the most physically imposing midfielder, and possibly player regardless of position, on this squad and has experience as the individual tasked with winning the ball back from the opposition even though he is not a defensive midfielder but rather serves as more of a box-to-box player. In his best defensive season, 2012-2013, he averaged a combined 3.2 tackles+interceptions per game in the league but it's his large body which would be a welcome addition on set pieces, whether he's battling in the air or bodying up an opposing player. However, he does not bring the passing, control or transition from the back to the front that Isco does and would rather be a more defensive-oriented player than someone who can contribute much substantial to the attack. The added bonus here is that he has a familiarity playing alongside Kroos that Isco and Illarra don't yet, and we all saw how long it took Kroos and Modric to gel and become a cohesive unit.
The final alternative is Batman-in-training Asier Illarramendi, he of the only 307 minutes played this season. The only natural defensive midfielder on the roster, Illarra would likely spend most of his time shielding the back four while Kroos and James Rodriguez are given reign to move forward to aid the attack. Despite his oft-maligned reputation, Illarra boasts a very strong pass completion rate and is capable of mixing in the long ball as well as dumping it off to others. In his best defensive season, he averaged a whopping 8.6 tackles+interceptions per game and is the most comfortable with the duties needed to serve as a defensive cover. While he doesn't have the industrious nature of Khedira or the attacking nous of Isco, he probably provides the best blend of the two in his ball-winning and control and is the best option in the heavy-possession style fo game Carlo seems to be looking for. However, he, like Sami, is coming off of slight injury and Carlo Ancelotti seems hesitant to give him big minutes even when healthy this season.
My personal preference is Isco as I believe he's being groomed to take over for Modric in the future, not to mention the offensive threat he brings to the table, but I could see why Carlo would want a more sturdy defensive-minded midfielder against potentially tricky opponents such as Celta Vigo.
What's your take, who's your replacement for Luka while he's out?