The Point of Rotation
When Rafa Benitez first put pen to paper on a contract to play for the illustrious whites, one of the most talked about things was his predicted use of rotations. To many, the reason we spectacularly collapsed (in my opinion an exaggeration) was because Ancelotti refused to rotate his stars efficiently (again in my opinion an exaggeration). The view is that near the crucial end of the season, Madrid’s superstars experienced a burnout. This view was only enhanced by Kroos’s "complaints" of exhaustion, Modric’s inability to stay fit, and BBC’s decline in production around the turn of the New Year. Thus when fans heard that Benitez would vigorously rotate his stars-particularly Modric and Kroos-fans were exhilarated. This idea was reinforced when Benitez convinced Florentino Perez to buy depth players like Lucas Vazquez and Denis Cheryshev (who was recalled from loan) instead of adding another superstar name to this already impressive squad. Indeed Benitez has seemingly lived up to his name by rotating sufficiently enough to please a significant amount of fans (Vazquez has started, Jese has two starts, Cheryshev has come on as a sub, and Kovacic has started vs Athletic Bilbao). But for me, none of this means anything if Benitez doesn’t pass his first true test regarding rotations.
To understand what I mean you must first understand the point of rotations. They are implemented to keep your best players fit and fresh for the key games. But if you rotate too much, you risk a loss of consistency and form. Rotate too little and you experience the much-maligned "Carlo Ancelotti burn-out". Benitez has so far rotated seemingly only to consider his options. Now he needs to do it to keep his key stars fresh vs Atletico.
So who should be rotated?
So who to rotate? As I hinted before, rotate too many players out of the squad and you risk losing rhythm, rotate too little and the players will not be able to match Atletico’s intensity over the 90 minutes. Thus Benitez must be careful and only rotate the players who will work the most and suffer the hardest against our rivals. Those players are probably Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Both will surely start against Atletico and will be tasked with not only constructing things offensively, but tasked with battling the likes of Gabi, Tiago, and Koke for the ball. Such a task is immensely draining physically and perhaps even more tiring mentally. For this reason Benitez should look to exclude Modric and Kroos from the starting eleven vs Malmo, or at least sub off both of them around the hour mark. I have spoken before how crucial Kroos and Modric are to controlling the flow of the game. If they are on form, they can limit Atletico’s attacking movements and ensure Real stay in total control. But to do this, they need to be 150%.
In addition to these two masterminds, Marcelo will be expected to do a lot of work running up and down the flank. Not only will he have to contribute significantly in offense, but also track back and make sure Atletico don’t make too much headway down the left flank. Arbeloa should come in for Marcelo not only to rest the Brazilian, but also to ensure that Arbeloa (the back-up auxiliary left back and third right-back) does not get too rusty.
Rafa, you’ve talked all pre-season about the importance of rotation. Time to do it when it matters.
My preferred line-up