Eyebrows were raised when the Real Madrid board forked out $40 Million to activate Asier Illarramendi's buyout clause, seeing the young Basque move to the Bernabeu. The need did, however, exist for a defensive midfielder to replace the aging Xabi Alonso. Needless to say, in his first season, Illarra was nothing short of a failure. After a disastrous performance in Dortmund that almost saw his side give up 3-0 aggregate advantage, Illarra's season was all but dead- confirmed by his absence in the Champion's League Final.
With Xabi Alonso departing for Bavaria and Sami Khedira on his way out of the club, many Madridistas clamored for the club to sign an additional defensive midfielder. The need seemed apparent, and still probably exists, but the emergence of a new Asier Illarramendi has significantly ameliorated the overall depth of Carlo Anceloitti's squad. Los Blancos can now depend on Illarramendi to slot in comfortably and facilitate play in front of the defense, much akin to his role model Xabi Alonso.
While no player will immediately replace Xabi Alonso, all signs are pointing to Aisier Illarramendi fulfilling his promise and assuming a Xabi-esque role. An increase in meaningful game time will surely see his confidence rise, allowing him to flourish as Real Madrid's primary defensive midfielder this season. Illarra has proven himself as a capable defensive midfielder in la Liga before, averaging over 3.4 tackles a game in both 2011 and 2012 (via whoscored). Ideally, he will even begin starting important matches soon, giving the first choice midfield trio much needed rest and rotation.
Ancelotti answered Lucas Navarrete's question about Illarramendi right after Real's 0-2 win at Villarreal.
While he may not yet be primed to lock down a spot in the starting XI, Illarra's nature as the deepest lying and most defensive of any of Real Madrid's midfielders will ensure that he will be an essential player as the season progresses. His ability to slow down games, and move play laterally and efficiently (which may go unnoticed at times), will see him inserted to close tight games down. With Carlo Ancelotti continuing to stress that "equilibro" as the key to his side's success, expect to see more and more of Illarra in the coming matches- especially with the season starting to pick up in intensity in the next couple of weeks.