Madrid closes 2021 in San Mamés (9.30pm, Movistar LaLiga) with a rosary of casualties: eight players due to covid (Asensio, Rodrygo, Bale, Marcelo, Modric, Lunin, Isco and Alaba as well as assistant Davide Ancelotti) plus the injured Carvajal and Ceballos, and the sanctioned Casemiro. A new puzzle for Carlo Ancelotti, who must retouch all the lines, and who has been left without the director of the rear (Alaba) and without the formula of the medium that gave him the great boost in the classification.
The Austrian will be relieved by the “pessimist” Nacho, to whom the coach has hung the symbolic title sign several times, although since the beginning of the course he has been in the shadow of the former Bayern and Militão after signing the best year of his race. In any case, man by man. The absences in the center of Casemiro and Modric, on the other hand, affect the nature of the team more and open a gap in the most influential area. As the whites took off, the spotlights were aimed at Vinicius and his mix with Benzema, but the key that finished squaring the circle was the old Casemiro-Kroos-Modric combo. In them, the Italian found order and the way to improve the defensive system, the great must at the beginning of the campaign. Considering the characteristics of these three, he often ordered his team to gather near Courtois and look for the spaces against them.
The absence in Bilbao of two of these pieces predictably opens the door to Camavinga and Valverde, young people with different characteristics who offer other variants. With his lush legs, the coach is presented with the option of qualifying the so-called low block that he successfully grasped three months ago and moving up the lines. “If I want to push higher, they could be more helpful,” he admitted a few days ago. Will you want it?
That, actually, was his plan at the start of the season. In the middle of August, wearing a Valdebebas tan, Ancelotti did not stop demanding more “defensive intensity” from his team. The message was pounding. “We have not had the courage to press up when we have very fast defenses,” he censured after thrashing Alavés (1-4) on the first day. “Without the ball we must improve the pressure,” he warned again after winning at Villamarín (0-1) in the third round. Then, in the medullary Kroos was missing due to injury, who did not start until the tenth clash.
It was a Madrid more goalscorer and at the same time more vulnerable. More open. It also had an experimental air, forced by the medical part of the German and the spirit of exploration of Carletto, which in that section he tried without Casemiro or Modric in a couple of duels. However, the fiasco in Cornellà (2-1) closed the rehearsals. His pragmatic and conservative spirit prevailed, and since October there is no other formula than the usual one (Casemiro-Kroos-Modric) and with the frequent instruction to back out. From 0-5 to Shakhtar, 12 wins and two draws. Both, coincidentally, to zero against Osasuna and Cádiz, who installed the old bus and forced him to leave the plan.
The doubts of ‘Carletto’
On that journey to the lower block, Ancelotti began by arguing that he needed to counter rivals like Shakhtar, but has ended up recognizing that it is no longer a method. “We would all like to attack the 90 minutes, but there is an opponent and some characteristics in the squad. With the low block we are more comfortable. It is not very aesthetic and we are not very intense defensively, but we do it well. We don’t have midfielders who can defend in the open field ”, he explained these weeks.
He was referring to the Casemiro-Kroos-Modric triangle, the one that breaks in Bilbao to foreseeably give entrance to Camavinga and Valverde, equipped, precisely, to cover more ground and climb up. The Uruguayan has been the great sacrifice of the bet for the classic trio. His situation with the Italian has been quite similar to that experienced with Zidane. Much appreciated by both, but ultimately overshadowed by force of events. After starting the first ten games, including as a right back, he did not return to eleven until last Sunday, also due to an injury that had him out for a month. Considered for almost three years the replacement of Modric’s position, with other qualities, he continues to wait his turn beyond the Croatian’s breaks.
Camavinga, meanwhile, should take Casemiro’s place. Its close people are convinced that this will be its future location. “He has a great control and security pass. He steals a lot of balls with his left leg and, by gestures, he looks like Redondo ”, they claim. In recent weeks, to protect the Brazilian from cards in the final minutes, Ancelotti already used him there after placing him more as a midfielder on his landing. Effervescent in the first weeks, it has been losing gas at the same time that the non-negotiable shortlist grew, also sometimes penalized by an excess of misunderstood energy.
The two of them, except for great news, point to headlines in San Mamés in a duel that is presented as a stress test just when things were going better for Ancelotti’s boys: 11 casualties, eight due to covid, important changes in all lines, without two key elements of the core that alter the ecosystem, and with the doubt of whether Hazard (drinkable in the second half against Cádiz) will have continuity and the basic 4-3-3 scheme will be maintained.
You can follow EL PAÍS DEPORTES in Facebook Y Twitter, or sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.