It is no secret that Real Madrid’s domestic campaign in the 2017/18 season has been nothing short of a disappointment, after 13 La Liga matches the club are eight points behind Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo has scored just two goals.
In the Champions League things are much brighter for Zinedine Zidane and co with Ronaldo the tournament’s leading scorer with eight and Los Blancos are already through to the knockout phase.
One of the difficulties the French coach has faced this term is rotation, last year he became known for his policy of constantly switching his starting XI around in order to manage the incredible number of fixtures the team had to play.
Courtesy of last season’s repeat Champions League triumph, Los Blancos will once again have to negotiate a trip to the Club World Championship just prior to the domestic winter break.
Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez played a hugely important role last season, it was noted by everyone that the Spanish giants had players on their bench who would be guaranteed starters at most other European clubs.
Zidane could, therefore, look to rest Ronaldo and keep the veteran fresh for the business end of the season, it must also be remembered that the impact of Gareth Bale’s injuries on the team were lesser felt as a result of the strong backup players in place.
In Bale’s absence last year Isco rose to prominence, he took the mantle and became an irreplaceable figure in midfield, unfortunately now with Bale having been out injured since September, there hasn’t been an alternative to the former Malaga midfielder. He has played almost every game and is starting to show fatigue.
These issues aren’t limited to the club’s midfield and attack, however, defensively there have been numerous problems this year and it has become clear just how light Real Madrid are in this position.
Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are the first choice central pairing, Nacho Fernandez is a utility player who can play in any position across the back-four, Jesus Vallejo returned from his loan with Frankfurt and is still getting to grips with life at such a sizable club, it is obvious Zidane doesn’t yet trust him to start La Liga matches on a regular basis.
That is a total of four central defenders to play over the course of the entire season, Pepe hasn’t been replaced and when one of those four has missed a match it has highlighted how lacking in depth this area is.
This is exactly why the reports linking David Luiz with a move to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu make perfect sense, it has already been briefed in the Spanish capital that Los Blancos would look to the January transfer window in a way they haven’t traditionally done this season.
Zidane has been surprised by how the lack of depth has impacted his squad, it was anticipated that Borja Mayoral, Vallejo and Dani Ceballos would all help alleviate any problems caused by the summer departures of Morata, Pepe and Rodriguez.
Luiz’s situation at Stamford Bridge is precarious, he arrived back at Chelsea an incredibly popular figure amongst supporters, he immediately settled into a central defensive back three and duly played a huge part in the Blues lifting the Premier League title in Antonio Conte’s debut season.
Since then his importance has waned slightly, the return of Andreas Christensen has knocked Luiz out of the starting line-up and it is believed quite a serious row between the defender and the Italian coach broke out.
Luiz was subsequently left out of the squad completely for Chelsea’s recent home match against Manchester United and the former Juventus coach was hardly convincing when asked whether the former Benfica defender had a future under him at Chelsea.
“I don’t know, he has to work really hard otherwise he will be on the bench or in the stands,” he explained to Sky Sports after the victory over United.
A persistent knee injury is hindering Luiz’s work in training at present and whilst Chelsea would not be receptive to offers for an incredibly popular squad member, Conte has already got his way over Diego Costa and you wouldn’t bet against it happening again.
The key will be finding a replacement, or at the very least a defensive alternative. Alex Sandro at Juventus was heavily targeted in the summer and there is every chance the London club will try to prise him away from Turin once again and hand Antonio Rudiger more starting opportunities through the middle. Conversely, the Brazilian’s arrival could see Marcos Alonso utilised as a versatile central defender.
For the defending European champions, Luiz seems the perfect fit. At around £30 million it wouldn’t be a hugely expensive signing, he has experience at the highest level with Chelsea, Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain and he would add depth to a position that needs it.
Having Luiz would allow Zidane to carefully monitor Varane’s fitness as well as being able to slowly hand Vallejo minutes gradually.
There is also the added benefit of the Brazilian’s ability to play as a defensive midfielder. In Madrid there is no Casemiro alternative, if he has to play at centre-half in an injury crisis, as has happened at times this season, there is nobody to really fill in.
Toni Kroos can play deeper but the midfield as a whole loses something, he is far less mobile than Casemiro and there isn’t a player with the range of passing who can take his space alongside Luka Modric.
Luiz would be able to play in Casemiro’s position, he would be able to facilitate periods of rest for the former Porto midfielder whilst not compromising the system. That is what carried Real Madrid to success last season; the rotations never took anything away from the system.
Los Blancos were quiet in the summer transfer window but are paying the price now, it is inconceivable that Florentino Perez won’t act in the winter, David Luiz’s arrival may well prove to be a convenient one given his situation at Stamford Bridge, but it could well prove a vital one in helping Zinedine Zidane rediscover his rotational Midas touch.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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