Real Madrid with out Casemiro: How will Ancelotti alter that midfield?

Want to know the way vital Casemiro was to Real Madrid? Ask Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Two-thirds of probably the most iconic midfield trio in fashionable soccer — with apologies to Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta — are actually dealing with as much as life with out the person Modric known as “the best bodyguard in the world.”

When experiences of Manchester United’s curiosity first surfaced, Kroos could not wait: he texted Casemiro at 4 a.m., asking if it was true. He later posted eight pictures on Instagram, all of Casemiro, Kroos and Modric posing with a special trophy. His caption: “You won’t find a lost final in this combination. Says it all! Gonna miss it. Gonna miss you.”

Casemiro — a participant who landed in Madrid in January of 2013 as an unheralded and unknown midfielder initially slated to play for reserve staff Castilla — leaves one of the crucial embellished gamers within the recreation and, at €70m, the second-most costly footballer over the age of 30. Only one participant — Madrid’s Paco Gento — has received extra European Cups.

The Brazilian will probably be missed on the Bernabeu now he has moved to United, however a take a look at Real Madrid’s squad and performances over the previous yr suggests the elements are there to compensate for his loss.

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An indispensable determine for thus lengthy

It was seven years in the past, within the 2015-16 season, that Casemiro set about making himself indispensable to Real Madrid’s midfield. There was competitors for locations that yr, with Casemiro, Kroos and Modric joined by James Rodriguez, Isco and Mateo Kovacic in a packed squad, but it surely quickly grew to become obvious — notably together with his absence within the 4-0 residence defeat to Barcelona in November 2015 — that solely the Brazilian’s inclusion introduced stability to the staff.

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Under supervisor Zinedine Zidane, the Casemiro/Kroos/Modric triumvirate grew to become untouchable, coinciding with Madrid’s record-breaking run of three consecutive Champions League wins. Their 2016-17 season was his most eye-catching — scoring spectacular targets towards Napoli and within the ultimate towards Juventus — whereas 2020-21 may need been his most influential, even ending because the staff’s second-highest scorer (7) behind Karim Benzema (30.)

Last yr Casemiro’s type was extra inconsistent, however he nonetheless made 230 ball recoveries in LaLiga, virtually as many as Kroos (125) and Modric (123) mixed. It was after ending the season on a excessive, with a LaLiga and Champions League double, that Casemiro first considered leaving.

“I felt like a cycle had ended,” he stated on Monday. “It was mission accomplished.”

The timing was proper to refresh

Fortunately for Real Madrid, a succession plan was already in place. In reality, it was that plan — signing Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco for €80m in June — that helped persuade Casemiro to maneuver on.

Casemiro, nonetheless six years youthful than Modric, wasn’t greatest happy {that a} ready-made alternative had been recognized and recruited so quickly. He needed to be placated throughout the membership’s preseason tour of the United States, with supervisor — or chief diplomat — Carlo Ancelotti reassuring him that he was nonetheless first alternative. Yet the doubts had already set in, and his thoughts could not be modified.

In fact, it wasn’t dangerous timing from the membership’s viewpoint. Real Madrid have all the time been shrewd judges of when to unload gamers, and their file in signing them is not dangerous both; with Tchouameni on board, the membership is just not anticipated to maneuver once more within the switch market to cowl the lack of Casemiro. In all, six midfielders will probably be tasked with taking the staff ahead: Kroos, Modric and Tchouameni, plus Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Dani Ceballos.

“We have a lot of good players who can play in [Casemiro’s] position,” Ancelotti said final week. “Tchouameni is one of the best midfielders in the market right now. There’s the option of Toni, who can play there as he did in my second year here [2014-15] … and we have [Eduardo] Camavinga.

“Defensively, Tchouameni is the participant who’s most like Casemiro. But Kroos can play there, should you consider who performs alongside him.”

Tchouameni or Camavinga?

As job interviews go, Tchouameni’s performance in the first game of the post-Casemiro era — Madrid’s 4-1 win away at Celta Vigo last Saturday — was convincing. The 22-year-old had more touches (87) than any Real Madrid player, and only Valverde could match him for ball recoveries (9). He created three chances too.

The role Tchouameni played in Madrid’s third and fourth goals was notable, starting both moves with decisive interventions in his own half, though Ancelotti wasn’t getting carried away. “He has to be taught,” the manager said. “He has to place himself higher. But he is convincing in duels and within the air, he has good toes, and he will get into the field.”

The idea floated by Ancelotti that Kroos could retreat into a more withdrawn role is less convincing. The German has never looked comfortable as a lone holding midfielder. If anything, the key to Casemiro’s success was to relish the midfield “soiled work” and allow Kroos to focus on what he does best: setting the tempo with the accuracy of his short- and long-range passing.

Camavinga is yet to convince in the role. It’s notable that in four of last season’s 13 LaLiga starts he was substituted at half-time, while his most memorable contributions in the Champions League came off the bench. For now, he looks best suited to a midfield role that allows more freedom and requires less positional discipline.

One solution might be looking to replicate some of Casemiro’s qualities elsewhere on the pitch, rather than attempting to replace him like-for-like. Valverde has developed into nobody’s idea of a holding midfielder, finding a role over the past year as a marauding, tireless right-sided midfield/wing hybrid, but the 24-year-old can match Casemiro for uncompromising attitude and mentality. The two were close friends, boasting a kinship built on shared experience, humility and a lack of ego: two industrious overachievers who had to force their way from Castilla to the first team.

When the names of Tchouameni and Camavinga were put to Casemiro in his farewell news conference as representing the future, he was quick to add Valverde to the list. “Madrid have a participant there for 10 or 12 years, simply,” he said.

The future?

Real Madrid’s prospects depend on how well Ancelotti can blend the two surviving members, Kroos and Modric, of what the coach called his “Bermuda Triangle” midfield — “the ball will get misplaced in there” — with the “rock ‘n’ roll” technology of Tchouameni, Camavinga and Valverde.

The subsequent take a look at comes on Sunday away at Espanyol, earlier than a primary residence recreation of the season towards Real Betis, with a much bigger take a look at coming towards Atletico Madrid on Sept. 18.

In the tip, efficiently changing Casemiro may come right down to what three gamers — Tchouameni in the identical place, Camavinga off the bench and Valverde on the appropriate — can collectively contribute.

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