Real Madrid’s midfield has been its motor over the past four seasons. As both Spanish giants have proven, having the best midfield on the planet is paramount to a team’s success. Madrid were forced to watch Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets wreak havoc for years, and now have a dominant midfield of their own.
At the tail-end of last season, the perfectly balanced midfield of Kroos, Modric, Casemiro, and Isco took the world by storm — ultimately culminating in a 4-1 drubbing of Europe’s best defense in Juventus. Despite this, Madrid’s midfield should be even better this coming season with the additions of both Marcos Llorente and Dani Ceballos. Look for Real to dominate the center of the pitch for yet another season.
#18 Marcos Llorente - The Fulcrum
No loan player surprised Madridistas more than Marcos Llorente in 2016-2017. Because of this, there are suddenly very high expectations for the young Spanish midfielder. Brought in to be competition for Madrid’s current defensive midfielder, Casemiro, if Llorente seeks a starting place he certainly has his work cut out for him.
However, Llorente is stylistically different from Casemiro, and is much more press-resistant than his Brazilian counter-part. Llorente was crucial in Alaves’ spectacular season last year, and has the capability to eventually become an undisputed starter at Real Madrid. His precise passing, and tempo-control show serious potential, and his defensive positioning is rarely off.
Due to the differences between Marcos Llorente’s game and Casemiro’s, expect the former to play in some matches with the first team where a ball-playing defensive midfielder is needed. Aside from that, do not expect Llorente to start over Casemiro in meaningful matches, as he will probably get most of his run outs in Madrid’s “B” team or through rotation.
#14 Casemiro - The Backbone
Some say that when you look up the word enigma, the definition sometimes reads: Casemiro. Such are the all-over-the place opinions that so many fans hold about him. There were times last season when his lack of technical ability hurt the team, however, there were far more instances in which his services bettered Madrid. Never shy to make a tackle, Casemiro proved vital in many matches, and was usually immense on the biggest stage. In a team that occasionally lacks bite, Casemiro is the essential backbone that holds it all together.
Casemiro will once again be an undisputed starter for Real Madrid. His health is reliable, and he is still bettering himself for the club. While young starlet Marcos Llorente will compete for playing time, expect Casemiro to play every big game for the club barring injury. I also believe that Casemiro’s distribution will take a step forward as he tries to become a more complete midfielder.
#16 Mateo Kovacic - The Spark Plug
The “Heir to Luka Modric” has flashed his talent on multiple occasions for Real Madrid, and patiently bides his time for a spot in the middle to open up. Many describe him as a big bundle of energy, capable of making darting runs through the middle and creating for teammates. It is certainly not his fault that he is not playing every week when one considers who is ahead of him in the pecking order.
After Madrid signed another talented starlet in Dani Ceballos this Summer, many questioned whether or not the Croatian still had a future at the club. Kovacic has responded better than anyone could have imagined this pre-season, and has surely convinced his manager that he deserves more minutes.
I envision Mateo Kovacic having his best ever season at the club. The recent signings will push him to be better in order to receive enough minutes. I would be shocked if he is not Madrid’s second Central midfielder off the bench after Isco. When the inevitable injury comes to one of Real Madrid’s starting midfielders, the 23-year old will step up and show out. Kovacic will impress, and even though most of his minutes will come through rotation, he should convince Zidane that he has a long-term future at the club.
#8 Toni Kroos - The Machine
Like a machine that never makes a mistake, Toni Kroos rarely misplaces a pass. Such is the style of the German midfielder, who has gotten better and better every season. Kroos was crucial for Real Madrid’s run to the double, and was a staple in Real Madrid’s press resistance and possession-based structure.
Kroos will wow again, and further cement himself as one of the top two or three midfielders in the world. Toni will be entering the peak of his prime in the next year or two, so we should see much of the same with even more lethality. There is really nothing more to say about the German, as he does what he does at a world class level, with it often going unnoticed. What he does is not what sticks out on the stat sheet, but it is equally important. Toni will be discreet yet again, but expect another world class season from the cyborg.
#24 Dani Ceballos - The Bad Boy
Dani Ceballos’ nickname was the hardest for me to figure out. What do you name a guy that can be so all over the place? You can see the edge in his game even in a friendly against Barcelona, and his past tweets about Catalans are well documented. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, and to me can only be described as a ‘Bad Boy’.
But edginess is not all he brings to the table, Ceballos brings elite vision and dribbling to Real Madrid. With a game that resembles a mix between both Isco and Kovacic, Ceballos’ addition adds yet another versatile midfielder to the ranks.
Like Mateo Kovacic, expect Ceballos to receive the majority of his minutes with the “B” team or through rotation. Unlike his Croatian teammate, Ceballos is capable of playing on the wing as well, which will undoubtedly help his quest for playing time.
#10 Luka Modric - The Fine Wine
Luka Modric just keeps getting better with age. If this last season showed us anything about the best midfielder in the world, it’s that there might be nothing that he can’t do. Bossing midfield from a defensive midfield role, a wide role in the diamond, and even in advanced areas, Modric was the engine that made Madrid tick. Modric usually saved his best performances for the biggest matches, with results at the Camp Nou, Calderon, and the Champions League Final particularly sticking out.
Will Luka Modric finally show signs of slowing down this year? It truly is impossible to know, but if recent history is anything to go by, he will be even better this season. Whether Modric operates in a more reserved role these coming seasons is anyone’s guess, but the player’s understanding of the game will allow him to play any role effectively.
#22 Isco - The Magician
No player came along late last season like Isco did. As the ESPN commentators beat to death during Madrid’s preseason matches, Isco was the glue that made Real so dominant at the end of last season. His insertion into the team was critical in balancing the midfield while creating a devastating machine that annihilated the best defenses in Europe.
Isco’s close control, dribbling, and goal threat provide an entirely different weapon in Real’s attack that opponents were rarely able to deal with when coupled with the expertise of both Kroos and Modric. The midfield trio completely wore down Juventus with their passing, and it was evident in the second half. The Italians struggled to even touch the ball in the final 45 minutes, and were steamrolled as a result.
The first thing on Isco’s plate is the extension that Real Madrid must have him sign before the season begins. Getting Isco’s signature is arguably more important than any signing Madrid can make this Summer.
Apart from this, Isco is coming off the best season of his career, and so many Madrid fans expect him to be just as good this year. In order to break into the team’s starting XI, it appears as though the Spaniard must beat out Gareth Bale, or wait for the Welshman to get injured. If Isco is able to maintain last season’s form throughout the season, Zidane will have no choice but to play him.
Which young, back-up Midfielder will have the best season?
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