Carlo Ancelotti’s confirmation that Luka Modric will play in Tuesday’s Champions League meeting with Schalke is great news for Real Madrid because, as far as Los Blancos are concerned, the little man’s return cannot come soon enough.
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Without him, the Madrid midfield has been lacking the quality regularly espoused by Ancelotti as the most important in the composition of his team: balance.
More than any other player, Modric provides a steady and consistent passing link between the shielding ‘pivot’ position fulfilled by Toni Kroos and the forward line of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Although Kroos is having a good first season in Madrid, he can only fulfil one role at a time and his job is to protect the back four whilst kick-starting attacks with sensible, risk-free passes.
Given his defensive responsibilities in maintaining the team’s shape, he has limited opportunity to go forward, moving laterally across the pitch rather straying too close to the opposition’s penalty area.
With Ancelotti’s hybrid 4-4-2/4-3-3 system, two more midfielders are required alongside Kroos to control play in the middle of the pitch.
One of those, Isco, does a great job in attacking the final third, often to devastating effect.
But he largely does so by running with the ball rather than passing it, with the result that Madrid’s play can become static and one-paced – the ball travels a lot more slowly when it is being dribbled than when it is being passed.
Isco’s value to the team is beyond question, but Madrid’s problem has been – especially since injury sidelined James Rodriguez – with the third member of the midfield trio.
Asier Illarramendi, Sami Khedira and Lucas Silva have all been given opportunities to make the position their own, but none of them have been able to shine –
although it’s far too early to properly judge Silva, who is still adjusting to his team’s rhythm following his winter arrival from Cruzeiro.
Modric’s intelligent, probing, creative passing is just what’s required to balance Isco’s dribbles, and his return will make Madrid a more dynamic team.
And with El Clasico around the corner, the timing couldn’t be better.
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