HomeSoccerDays of Future Past: Analysing Real Madrid's midfield dilemma

Days of Future Past: Analysing Real Madrid’s midfield dilemma

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Real Madrid midfielders – Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and Casemiro kicked off a passage of European dominance in the second half of the 2015-16 campaign. The Croat, with his intricate touches and press-resistance, could take any contemporary for a spin.

His partner-in-crime, Kroos, preferred to hold his runs, and set the tempo from the middle of the park. And finally, the backbone of the team, Casemiro, made sure Marcelo’s over-enthusiasm didn’t get in the way of Real Madrid’s unprecedented Champions League run. The trio, on its day, could match and even best any midfield in the world, and Madridistas couldn’t be more grateful.
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Following the Champions League “three-peat,” the midfielders found themselves in the middle of one of Real Madrid’s most embarrassing campaigns in recent memory. Banking on their steady supply of trusted midfielders and the genius of Lionel Messi, Barcelona cruised to their 26th La Liga crown in the 2018-19 season, while Ajax convincingly ended Los Blancos’ Champions League defence in front of a packed Santiago Bernabeu. The horrendous season saw the return of the legendary Zinedine Zidane, who, for the first time ever, had a team to rebuild.

The present

Sitting only two points behind leaders, Barcelona, Real Madrid probably aren’t too disappointed with how their current campaign is going. They still have 11 La Liga encounters to turn it around, and Zidane’s men certainly have the quality to pull ahead if an opportunity presents itself.

Misfiring forwards aside, Zidane also had to deal with his ageing midfield. 34-year-old Luka Modric isn’t as agile as he used to be. He still has the quality, of course, but he doesn’t have the stamina to perform at the same level for 90 minutes. Toni Kroos and Casemiro, on the other hand, have been exceptionally efficient in the middle, but the partnership is hardly as dramatic.

Cantera graduate, Fede Valverde, has been the first choice for the central midfield position, this season, and the Uruguayan is yet to put a step wrong. Full of passion and hunger, Valverde is the perfect box-to-box midfielder — a player who Real Madrid can’t do without at the moment.

Attacking midfielder Isco has also seen some action under Zidane, and the Spaniard has mostly been impressive. He’s still not the fastest distributor of the ball, but comes in handy against well-knit units. James Rodriguez has once again been thoroughly underused by the Frenchman. In only 13 appearances across all competitions, the Colombian has racked up one goal and two assists.

The future

If rumours are to be believed, Real Madrid are looking for a major reshuffle in the next transfer window. President Florentino Perez has a soft spot for Luka Modric, but he isn’t willing to make the team suffer for it. Modric’s departure would, of course, trigger loads of speculation, but only a couple of scenarios feel realistic.

Real Madrid starlet, Martin Odegaard, has already become a fan favourite, even without featuring for the Whites this season. On loan at Real Sociedad, Odegaard has emerged as one of the finest players in the 2019-20 La Liga campaign, leaving some of the more sought-after names in the dust. The young Norwegian has created 54 chances so far in the league— only three short of the legendary Lionel Messi — which led Madridistas to believe that the player would be an excellent addition to the squad.

Manchester United star, Paul Pogba, is also in the mix, as always. The World Cup winner is one of Zidane’s favourite players, but the club president isn’t very willing to match United’s rather steep asking price. Dani Ceballos, who is on loan at Arsenal, is another option to consider.

As per reports, the Merengues are also interested in the services of Rennes midfielder, Eduardo Camavinga. Only 17, the France Under-21 international is one of the brightest young defensive midfielders in the world and could be the ideal substitute for Casemiro. Rennes, however, won’t let him go without a fight, and it’s difficult to say whether Real Madrid would want a take them on in this pandemic-stricken market.

As always, Real Madrid have an abundance of options to choose from, but that doesn’t necessarily make the task easy. If Modric decides to leave the Spanish capital next season, Valverde should be his obvious replacement. In that case, Zidane won’t be wise to recall Odegaard from Sociedad. A player of Odegaard’s talent deserves uninterrupted action, which Real Madrid won’t be able to offer right away. 

Getting Pogba, on the other hand, would burn a hole in Real Madrid’s finances, but he might be the only world-class midfielder worthy of replacing the former Ballon d’Or winner. Finally, Camavinga, too, seems like a crucial addition to the squad, as Zidane doesn’t have a like-for-like replacement for Casemiro.

Zidane will have a few impossible decisions to make in the coming months, decisions that will shape the club’s future. The Frenchman has made a career out of achieving the unachievable, and it’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with this time around.

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