Figuring out the PSG conundrum and more

With the hot start to the La Liga season coinciding with a return to the classic Casemiro-Kroos-Modric trio, there was a proudly held belief among giddy Madridistas that the legendary triumvirate was still the midfield to beat in Europe, three successive limp exits in the Champions League knockouts notwithstanding.

It didn't take much - simply a reversal in xG fortunes post-Christmas break as well as a bungled UCL Last 16 draw - for the seeds of doubt to reemerge. A dry spell in front of goal means the weekly 3 points in La Liga are now much more labored, and that amateur hour in Nyon last December has Real facing "real" opposition in Europe earlier than customary. Now, the calls for Valverde to retake the prominent role he assumed last year are near unanimous, and not a few question why Ancelotti has relegated Camavinga to a bit part role. No one is so certain of CKM any more.

Individually and collectively, Casemiro, Kroos and Modric are still excellent players. Casemiro is squarely in his prime and Kroos is as cerebral and precise as ever. Modric is playing like the youngest 36 year-old in football. But the lack of solutions in the eliminations to Ajax, Manchester City and Chelsea as well as the pathetic first leg against PSG suggest that in Europe at least, even if the players are the same, the game has changed.

The low quality in La Liga this season as well as that of UCL group stage fodder have masked things, but the elite level in Europe has made transitioning away from the CKM midfield more urgent. When facing the elite sides of Europe, it is high time for the likes of Valverde and soon, Camavinga to be taking the baton.

And yes, even if Casemiro, Kroos and Modric are still good enough to dominate La Liga, Real need to make a deliberate effort to orient itself towards the new order in Europe. Start with the team you want to be fielding against the likes of Bayern and City, and build from there. You can not have one plan for La Liga and another for the UCL knockouts.

To me, that means Valverde is the first name on the team sheet week in, week out. For next season, the other two spots can be shared by Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, and more and more Camavinga. I don't believe there is an urgent need to add another name to that group, especially with the likes of Isco, Ceballos and Blanco barely even involved as it is.

For this season, and, let's face it, for the one match that truly matters right now, versus PSG, Casemiro's suspension means Fede is a dead certainty to start the second leg. That's one decision solved for Carlo Ancelotti. In my opinion, the second big decision for him would be to sit the admittedly in-form Marco Asensio in favor of a fourth midfielder. In the first leg, Real Madrid's woeful inability to press largely ceded control to PSG and an inexplicably bad passing night meant they couldn't even muster a counter-attacking threat when they did get the ball.

Valverde will help sustain a better press, but a fourth midfielder adds to our chances of asserting a measure of control and give our new holy trinity of Alaba, Militao and Courtois a chance to breathe. We cannot afford to be overrun by Veratti and co. a second time if we hope to overcome this deficit.

So a fourth midfielder... but who? Let's start with who doesn't fit the bill. Hazard is still excellent on the ball, but he is a luxury player who doesn't provide much luxury to justify his place. An easy no. Ancelotti toyed with the idea of Asensio as midfielder earlier in the season, but quickly concluded he doesn't belong there. Asensio is the kind of player who drifts in and out of matches - not exactly synonymous to control.

Isco, Ceballos and Camavinga are the viable candidates. At first glance, Camavinga feels like too much of a risk. He is a teenager who has not had many minutes and has looked a bit lost when he has played, save for the purple patch he started his Real Madrid career with. But his playing style does fit the requirement quite well, if Carlo plays him in a more advanced role - not Casemiro's DM position. Ceballos was excellent in the summer before his unfortunate injury and there have been murmurs of Ancelotti aiming to get him more involved. Among the three, he probably has the best combination of energy, passing and defense. But he is also the biggest wildcard. What we know of him is almost solely theoretical at this point.

Isco is my choice for the PSG game. While he cannot tackle like Camavinga or keep the play rolling like Ceballos, he has the best final ball, is very press resistant and has a lot of big game experience. He has acquitted himself well in the few matches he has played this season, but has simply been a victim of there being no place for him in the formation. Well, for this game at least, he has a place in mine. Camavinga, Ceballos and Asensio may all have a role to play later in the match, but I would start the second leg with Courtois in goal; Nacho, Alaba, Militao and Carvajal in defense; Kroos in Case's pivot position with Vini, Modric, Isco and Valverde in front of him; and Benz up front.

As for the future of our midfield, my one hope after this season is that after four years, we have finally learned our lesson and plan to compete with the best of Europe from the get-go. We cannot have another year where we're lured into thinking good is good enough only to be smacked into reality come April.