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Is Illarramendi ready to start in the Champions League Final?

As Ancelotti confirmed, Illarramendi will likely be Alonso's replacement in the UEFA Champions League final. Will he be able to make us forget the Red Beard's absence?

Denis Doyle

Reaching a UEFA Champions League final is very difficult. Real Madrid had not been able to do so since 2002 and the outstanding performance displayed by our players during the whole clash against Bayern Munich served to fulfill this partial objective after twelve years of disappointment. However, nobody remembers the runner-ups, and a team with as rich a history as Real Madrid can't be pleased with anything but a title.

To succeed in Lisbon and finally conquer La Décima, we will have to beat our neighbors Atlético de Madrid, and we will have to do it with the noticable absence of Xabi Alonso, who will miss the final due to a yellow card suspension. Ancelotti will need to recompose his lineup without the cornerstone of his project and the most difficult man to substitute. The most evident alternative is to make Asier Illarramendi Alonso's replacement, as Ancelotti himself confirmed in a recent press conference.

Since Fernando Redondo left Real Madrid back in the year 2000, we had never had a good true central midfielder until Xabi joined our squad almost five years ago. Last summer, given his age and his physical problems, the question of proclaiming a successor was discussed everywhere and the chosen one was Illarra. In a way, it seemed the natural choice given his shared origins with Alonso, but they are not, in my opinion, that alike as football players. In fact, when Khedira's injury was known, we talked about how Illarra could replace him in the 4-3-3 Ancelotti had built, by exploiting some attributes of his that differ to those of Alonso's, especially bearing in mind his performance with Real Sociedad last year as a more advanced midfielder

However, Illarramendi can also play as a deep-lying midfielder. His memorable performance in the last U21-Eurocup can serves as proof, but he has also done it playing for us. Before Alonso was ready, Asier was the low vertex of the midfield triangle he formed with Modric and Khedira, and his display was quite good against Juventus or Getafe, not to mention his late entrance in the Camp Nou Clásico against FC Barcelona, in which he turned the match upside down with the aid of Karim Benzema.

Why is everyone so worried, then? Well, first of all, because Xabi's aura is quite impressive and we are all a bunch of hysterical fans that suffer for our team, but, truth be told, Illarra's last games have not been precisely the best in his short career. Being substituted at half-time, especially when your coach is Carlo Ancelotti, is clear evidence that you are doing something wrong, and this happened to Illarramendi at Dortmund and last Sunday against Valencia.

The optimistic way to look at it is that, in both games, Illarra was playing together with Alonso. If he is going to be Ancelotti's choice for the final, my guess is that we would go back to the 4-3-3 with Illarra, Modric and Isco in the midfield, and switching to a 4-4-2 in defensive situations as we have been doing lately, and I strongly believe this should work. In fact, I think our biggest problem last Sunday against Valencia (other than an unbelievably bad luck towards the goal) was the absence of Modric, as both Alonso and Illarra are quite smart in tactical terms and are great at passing the ball, but neither of them has the speed and the ability Luka has to go deep down to maintain possession in fast conduction, dribbling his rivals when necessary. Moreover, in the intense and chaotic war-like game Simeone will for sure want to get into, a player with Illarra's skill to stop the tempo of the game and calm the mood can be a great asset.

You have chosen Illarra to be Alonso's replacement in the poll we conducted last week. It is time to confirm your vote here or express your disconformity with the majority!

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