It isn’t a coincidence that the best teams in the history of football boasted a magnificent midfield in their respective squads. The four semi-finalists of the Champions League this season are the four teams with the best midfield in Europe. And one of them is Real Madrid.
Connections are important in life. Even though, at times, attachment is the root of all miseries, it is still the thing that helps us cross this ocean of life. Without a medium, there can’t be connections and without connections, there can’t be a life. Similarly, without a midfield, there can’t be a connection between defence and attack and hence, there can’t be goals.
Real Madrid have an array of talent in their squad. Their midfielders list consists of Isco, Asier Illarramendi, Lucas Silva, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Sami Khedira and James Rodriguez – so many that the backups, Illarramendi and Silva, hardly get a chance to feature.
With such a large band of midfielders, Carlo Ancelotti has the option to try out many different combinations with accordance to the opposition team. The Italian has, however, showed his preference to a 3-man midfield of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and James/Isco with Asier Illarramendi and Lucas Silva finding themselves on the fringes of denial.
Even though the quartet of James, Isco, Kroos and Modric is preferred by the former Milan boss, he finds himself in a conundrum almost always. James’ hefty price-tag and adding to his amazing performances recently have cemented his place in the trio, while Isco’s ever-flowing consistency means that a really cold and brutal heart is needed to put him on the bench.
And this is where Carlo Ancelotti has to do some thinking.
Which midfield trio should Ancelotti use at Real Madrid?
Injuries notwithstanding, Ancelotti has three ideal midfield combinations: Kroos-Isco-Modric, Kroos-Isco-James and Kroos-Modric-James. But with Luka Modric out injured for some time, the former Juventus boss has no option but to play with the first trio, but with a twist.
Against Atletico Madrid, it worked. Sergio Ramos was also slotted in midfield to handle the brutal approach of the Rojiblancos. However, the same approach backfired against Juventus as the Turin Club won 2-1 and were unlucky to not score more.
So, the dilemma remains. Luka Modric is not going to be back for at least another 2 weeks and can be considered out for the season. With Sergio Ramos showing that he is far from the ideal man to play in midfield, it is time for Ancelotti to rethink his strategy.
From the options on the bench, he has Asier Illarramendi and Lucas Silva to choose from. Having arrived in January, the Brazilian seems a bit out of place and it won’t be before next season that he finds his feet at the club.
On the other hand, there is Asier Illarramendi. Of the last 4 matches, he has started in 2 and hasn’t shown anything that would give Ancelotti the incentive to start him in big games.
However, playing one of the two of them would give balance to Real’s midfield. Sergio Ramos is being played at midfield to add a physical presence – something which both of them lack. It clearly is a much bigger risk as we have seen.
With either Illarramendi or Silva, Real Madrid will be able to enjoy more possession of the ball as both are much better than their vice-captain when it comes to retaining possession. Also, they will be playing in their natural positions, unlike Ramos.
When Benzema arrives from injury in just about a week’s time, Ancelotti might shift back to a 3-man-midfield which will almost certainly consist of Isco, James, and Kroos. The Merengues play Juventus up next and playing such a fluid midfield could also be a huge risk.
Similarly, Juve have Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal who are quite physical in their ways. Even with Sergio Ramos in midfield, these two didn’t seem to have much trouble overrunning Real’s midfield.
Knowing Ancelotti, it is unlike that either of Illarramendi or Lucas Silva will get the nod in Madrid’s next fixtures. With Benzema’s arrival, Sergio Ramos will be slotted back to defense and the 3-man-midifeld of Isco, Kroos and James will be deployed.
Or, Ancelotti could surprise again by making a small tweak: playing Raphael Varane in midfield.
The former Lens player has experience playing in midfield and one can only wonder why the Italian has preferred to play Ramos in midfield instead of the young Frenchman. Even though his form of late has not been anywhere to the level he displayed before his knee injury, his unreal composure and temperament makes him a good fit for a role as a holding midfielder.
Another advantage is that the 22-year-old is a much better passer than Sergio Ramos. The latter played some atrocious passes against Juve – giving the impression that he was more of a headless chicken than a footballer.
Be it short range or long range, one could her or his life that Varane will play it accurately.
At this point of time, with such tight fixtures ahead and each of them being a must win game, coupled with the absence of Luka Modric, all eyes are on Ancelotti on how he will respond. No set of Modric-less midfield could be classified as ‘ideal’, but a midfield with Kroos, Varane and one of either James, in better form, or Isco, better work-rate, seems like the way to go.