Despite constant rumors linking Real to the likes of Paul Pogba, Marco Verratti, and even (shudders) Moussa Sissoko, there hasn't been any new additions to Real Madrid's midfield, nor has anyone left. While the line between who's a midfielder and who's an attacker for Real Madrid is often blurred, there are a few who we know for certain will be in the middle of the pitch.
#19 Luka Modrić
What's left to be said about Lukita? Here's what you probably already know. He's Real's most important midfielder, possibly even overall player. He can play anywhere in midfield. His injury in 2014/15 was likely responsible for the derailment of Real's season. He dribbles, he marks well defensively, he can shoot when he feels like it, and above all, he hits outside of the boot passes effortlessly. You can make a rather strong argument he's the best midfielder in the world.
And good news for Real fans! We can expect more of the same from Modrić as he enters his fifth season in Madrid. After coming over from Tottenham as a more attacking midfielder, he's been moved around and mostly back, with Xabi Alonso's departure being what really cemented him in the deeper midfield. Modrić's technical ability is so complete that he's now putting up comparable numbers from the central midfield as he did when he was playing closer to the attacking midfield. Last season he created 61 chances at a 91 percent pass completion rate, whereas in the 2012 season, he created 56 chances at 89 percent pass completion. In short, he's moved further away from the attacking third and has created more scoring chances more efficiently in doing so.
If you have 11 minutes to kill, watch this, which highlights not only what he does with the ball, but where's receiving it and passing it from. And here's a great read about Luka and all he does. Luka Modrić will be a regular in Madrid's starting 11. Long live Luka.
#8 Toni Kroos
If Luka Modrić is Blastoise, Toni Kroos is Wartortle: a less-evolved version of his Croatian compatriot, but still every bit as exciting and versatile.
Kroos broke out in 2012 as Bayern Munich's attacking midfielder, a slightly unpolished dynamo in Germany's golden generation. After snatching him for a paltry €25 million, Carlo Ancelotti helped mold Kroos into a more composed midfielder in a more central position. This came without serious fanfare, but the evolution of Kroos from a volatile attacker into one of the world's most composed central midfielders is astounding, and his trajectory is still going up.
Instead of dribbling into the opponent's box, he's now passing through the center circle. Last year he was one of three players in La Liga to complete over 2000 passes, and he followed that by logging some superhuman stats at Euro 2016.
He was the tournament's leading passer at 608. The second leading passer (Jérôme Boateng) recorded 399. Kroos had the highest pass completion percentage (93 percent) of anyone who attempted at least 300 passes, and he attempted 653 passes (Boateng attempted 438). And the numbers aren't misleading either, getting padded with short touches and useless passes. Kroos was providing service across the pitch and into the opponent's third.
Kroos seems like he can play wherever he wants, and he's more or less the backup plan at defensive midfielder for Real this season (barring an unexpected signing). No matter where he ends up playing for most of his career, we're going to look back and think, "What if Kroos played more forward/centrally/on the wing/defensively/wherever" because he really seems capable of shining anywhere. Like Modrić, Kroos will be a regular in Madrid' first 11.
Casemiro was perhaps the most surprising player of last season. In 2014/15 he went on loan to Porto where he did well, but showed nothing that would've suggested he'd go on to be critical to last year's run to La Undécima.
Not long after Zidane took over as manager, he began using Casemiro as the fulcrum of the midfield, providing a defensive presence behind Modrić and Kroos. Gareth Bale said of him, "He has been our Makélélé...We know that behind us he is going to fill every hole and tackle everything that moves, even if it’s the referee."
Here's what we know about Casemiro.
Casemiro can: Win loads of 50/50 balls, halt counter attacks, and win the ball back in the middle third of the pitch.
Casemiro can't really: Pass vertically with great effect, kickstart counter attacks, avoid getting booked excessively.
Real's hesitance to seriously pursue Grzegorz Krychowiak or N'Golo Kanté, both of whom are more complete than Casemiro and were available, suggests Zidane is either fine with Casemiro's limitations, or he's convinced he can coach Casemiro into a more able passer. After winning the ball back, his assignment is often to find Kroos or Modrić, which is good and great, but it halts and hamstrings Real's attack, particularly on the counter.
Yet despite this, he's so strong defensively that he's worked himself into a position where he's going to be a very regular starter for Real. Casemiro will likely see plenty of minutes this season, and will certainly start against stronger attacking sides.
Isco's time in Madrid has been rather interesting. He's never cemented himself as a dead-on starter, yet he's been much more than a rotational bench player. Every transfer window, he's linked to clubs all across Europe (most recently Juventus and AC Milan), and he'd not only walk into the starting lineup at most clubs -- they'd be eager to build their whole team around him. And yet he seems content to be a regular feature in Madrid.
I can't think of a player who would be more devastating in a 5-a-side match than Isco. He's probably Real's most technically gifted dribbler, able to work his way out of and through tight spaces with ease. Isco has never been the focal point of Real's attack, acting mostly as a creative supplicant, and his assist numbers have never hit the highs you'd expect from a player of his ability and position, likely due to his role and minutes more than his ability.
Isco is a fan favorite, a perfect plug-in for whoever's injured at the moment, and this versatility has tremendous value. His best ability is being able to hold up the ball and wait for attackers to go on runs, and he can almost always cut out the pass needed.
#16 Mateo Kovačić
After getting sparse minutes in his first year at the Bernabéu, Kovačić is at a bit of a crossroads in his career. It was thought he'd fancy a loan move for 2016, but it's frankly not needed. He's already polished, and his agent said he's eager to fight for playing time under Zidane. The midfield is deep, but not so deep that he'll be an afterthought again.
Here's what's often forgotten about Mateo Kovačić: He is outstandingly fast. He can play in the central and deep midfield. He's still only 22. And he is as technically gifted as anyone. All of his skills fill a need for Madrid, and most clubs would do anything to have a player of his quality as depth. Just because he's the last man in a quality unit doesn't mean he should be written off.
What his role is in 2016 depends on what happens around him. If (heaven help us) Modrić goes down with an injury, and if Kroos is given rest (which he likely will be), Kovačić could work in either role. Kovačić hasn't had the chance to jell with the front three yet, and it'll take some time, but he certainly has the ability to be a quality rotational player for Madrid.
If you're looking for our new favorite wonder-kid, Marco Asensio, keep an eye out for tomorrow's attackers preview!