Amid reports that Iker Casillas has expressed his desire to play out his contract at Real Madrid, many in the Spanish media have speculated that the top brass at the Bernabeu would offer Casillas an exit package in order to get the legend to move on after nearly 16 years of faithful service. While Casillas' form has certainly dropped in the past few years, he is still the undisputed captain of Los Blancos.
Following the rather embarrassing display by the team in Madrid against Schalke a month ago, it was Casillas who held the team out in the center circle to accept the wrath of the Madrid faithful. After the whistling and white handkerchiefs had stopped, it left many wondering what the next step was. While David De Gea is the most obvious answer, and his performance for United this year certainly should put him near the top of Madrid's wish list, there seems to be a more fundamental problem in the Real defense this year that goes beyond Saint Iker.
When Florentino Perez decided to jettison another Real Madrid legend, Xabi Alonso, this past summer, it left the team fundamentally unbalanced. The loss of Angel Di Maria, whose prowess in tracking back made him one of the most important pieces of the La Decima puzzle last year, only exacerbated the situation.
Ancelotti has obviously been forced to field an unbalanced lineup all season. While Kroos has performed admirably in a modified Xabi Alonso role, the fact remains that he is playing out of position. Far too often he gets caught a bit too far forward, which creates all kinds of room for the opposing midfield to push down into Madrid's defense, leaving Ramos and Pepe, and subsequently Iker, exposed. More crucially, Illarramendi has been a major disappointment in the holding midfield role.
Truth be told, I was huge fan of his signing as I thought he would bring much more to this side. I, like so many others, saw a young Xabi Alonso, not only because of the Real Sociedad roots, but because they both had an essential quality in a holding midfielder -‐ patience. For some reason, the game just seems too fast for Illarra right now, and his mistakes have led to some dangerous counters. Perhaps its because of a lack of playing time, but this just isn't the same Illarra we saw play for la Real. It is possible that we need to exercise the same virtue of patience with Illarra (he is still only 25), but for now he looks like a failed transfer.
Similarly, time will tell if Lucas Silva is the solution as the former Cruzeiro man has looked decent in the short time he has been on the field, and for a while had even earned Ancelotti's trust over Illarra. So who should Real Madrid target this summer to fill the void? Unfortunately for Los Merengues, the perfect player is currently playing for our chief rival-‐ Sergio Busquets. Its difficult for this Madridista to compliment a Barcelona player, so I will simply say that there is no chance of Madrid getting their hands on a key cog in the Barcelona defense.
One man I think Real should look at is Arturo Vidal. Rumored to be on the outs with Juventus, Vidal could be had for €20-25M if reports from the Daily Star are to be believed. The Chilean has had a poor season for Juventus, but I tend to believe that this year was an anomaly in an otherwise incredible career. The Chilean has the vision, work rate, and skill to thrive at Real Madrid, and would provide much needed stability in the midfield. Another name that has been linked to Real Madrid has been Vidal's teammate, Paul Pogba. While people in the Spanish capital have been drooling over his work with the ball at his feet, I think an underrated asset in his game is his defensive work combined with his technical ability. Earlier in his career at Juventus, he was asked to play a bit further back and provide support to Pirlo and other attacking options, and if he is willing to play that same role at Madrid, while occasionally getting forward, he could be absolutely lethal.
There is still a lot of football to be played this season, and time will tell if the lack of balance will hurt Ancelotti's team in the Champions League. Regardless of if the quest for Undecima is successful, Florentino Perez should spend the summer trying to find a holding midfielder that can take some of the pressure off the back four.