Ancelotti has a plan for his LaLiga-winning midfield


Do you want to know how important Casemiro is to Real Madrid? Ask Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Two-thirds of the most famous midfielders in modern football – with apologies to Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta – are now facing life without the man he calls Modric.The best bodyguard in the world. “

When reports of Manchester United’s interest first surfaced, Kroos couldn’t wait: he texted Casemiro at 4am, asking if it was true. He later posted eight photos on Instagram, each of Casemiro, Kroos and Modric holding a different trophy. His comment: “You won’t find a final loser in this group. Say it all! I’m going to miss him. I’m going to miss you.”

Casemiro – a player who arrived in Madrid in January 2013 as an unidentified midfielder and originally scheduled to play for Castilla’s reserve team – leaves one of the most capped players in the game and, at €70m, was the second most expensive player. Football player over the age of thirty. Only one player – Madrid Paco Gento – has won more European Cups.

The Brazilian will be absent at the Bernabeu now after his move to United, but a look at Real Madrid’s squad and level over the past year suggests the ingredients are in place to make up for his loss.

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Indispensable character for a long time

Seven years ago, in the 2015-16 season, Casemiro began to make himself indispensable in the Real Madrid midfield. There was a competition for places that year, with Casemiro, Kroos and Modric joining James Rodriguez, Isco and Mateo Kovacic in a packed squad, but it quickly became apparent – particularly with his absence in the 4-0 home loss to Barcelona in November. 2015 – Only the inclusion of the Brazilian balances the team.

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Under coach Zinedine Zidane, the Casemiro/Kroos/Modric hat-trick has become untouchable, coinciding with Madrid’s record-breaking three consecutive Champions League victories. The 2016-2017 season was the most striking – he scored astonishing goals against Napoli and in the final against Juventus – while the 2020-21 season was perhaps the most impressive, even finishing second in the team’s top scorer (7). Karim Benzema (30).

Last year, Casemiro’s performance was more inconsistent, but he recovered 230 balls in La Liga, almost as much as Kroos (125) and Modric (123) combined. After finishing the season at its highest level, with the double of La Liga and the Champions League, Casemiro first considered leaving.

“It felt like a cycle was over,” he said on Monday. “Mission accomplished.”

The timing was right for the update

Fortunately for Real Madrid, a succession plan was already in place. Indeed, it was that plan – signing Aurelien Chuamini from Monaco for €80m in June – that helped persuade Casemiro to go ahead.

Casemiro, who is still six years younger than Modric, was not pleased that a ready replacement was identified and appointed soon. He had to be calmed during the club’s pre-season tour of the US, as manager – or chief diplomat – Carlo Ancelotti reassured him he was still the first choice. However, doubts had already begun, and his mind could not be changed.

Really, it wasn’t bad timing from the club’s point of view. Real Madrid have always been a skilled referee in deciding when to release players, and their record of signing them isn’t bad either; With Chuamini on board, the club is not expected to move again in the transfer market to cover Casemiro’s loss. In all, six midfielders will be tasked with pushing the team forward: Kroos, Modric and Swamini, as well as Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Dani Ceballos.

“We have a lot of good players who can play [Casemiro’s] Site,” Ancelotti said last week. “Chwamini is one of the best midfielders on the market at the moment. There is the option of Tony, who can play there as he did in my second year here. [2014-15] …and we have [Eduardo] Camavinga.

“Defensively, Chuamini is more like Casemiro. But Kroos can play there, if we take into account who plays alongside him.”

Chwamini or Camavinga?

As job interviews continue, Chuamini’s first game performance in the post-Casemiro era – Real Madrid’s 4-1 win away to Celta Vigo last Saturday – was convincing. The 22-year-old has had more touches (87) than any Real Madrid player, and only Valverde can match him in recovering the ball (9). He also made three chances.

Chuamini’s role in Madrid’s third and fourth goals was notable, starting both moves with decisive interventions in his own half, although Ancelotti did not drift away. “He has to learn,” said the director. “He should put himself better. But he is convincing in duels and in the air, he has good feet, and he enters the penalty area.”

Ancelotti’s notion that Kroos could be relegated to a more withdrawn role is less compelling. The German has never looked comfortable as a lone midfielder. If anything, the key to Casemiro’s success has been to enjoy the “dirty work” in midfield and allow Kroos to focus on what he does best: setting the tempo precisely with his short and long-range passes.

Camavinga is not yet convinced of this role. It is noteworthy that in four out of 13 appearances in La Liga last season, he was substituted at half-time, while his most memorable contribution to the Champions League was on the bench. At the moment, it seems best suited for a midfield role that allows more freedom and requires less positional discipline.

One solution could be to try to replicate some of Casemiro’s qualities elsewhere on the pitch, rather than try to replace him with the same. Evolving into nobody’s idea of ​​a midfielder, Valverde has found a role over the past year as a tireless right-winger/midfielder, but the 24-year-old can match Casemiro with his relentless demeanor and mindset. The two were good friends, boasting a kinship based on shared experience, humility and a lack of ego: two hardworking hard-working who had to work their way out of Castile for the first team.

When Tchouameni and Camavinga were named Casemiro at his farewell press conference as representing the future, he was quick to add Valverde to the roster. “Real Madrid has had a player there for 10 or 12 years easily,” he said.

the future?

Real Madrid’s prospects depend on how well Ancelotti can blend the two remaining members, Kroos and Modric, for what the coach calls a “Bermuda Triangle” midfield – “the ball gets lost there” – with “rock ‘n’ roll” Gil Chuamni, Camavinga and Valverde.

The next test comes on Sunday away at Estadio Espanyol, ahead of the first home game of the season against Real Betis, with a bigger test coming against Atl├ętico Madrid on September 18.

Ultimately, successfully replacing Casemiro could lead to what three players – Chuamini in the same position, Camavinga on the bench and Valverde on the right – can contribute collectively.


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