European champions Real Madrid have had an excellent start to the 2014-15 season and heading towards Christmas already look ominous in their hunt for silverware across a number of competitions.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men are sitting pretty at the top of La Liga, two points clear of perennial rivals Barcelona, and have already qualified from Champions League group B courtesy of four straight victories.
Concerns over the slightly surprising summer departures of Ángel Di María and Xabi Alonso have been quelled, with the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu outfit winning their last 13 games in all competitions.
Despite things going Madrid’s way of late, Los Blancos will be without arguably their most influential player for the next two to three months, as Luka Modrić has been sidelined with a thigh injury.
Regardless of the incredible goalscoring exploits of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Croatian midfielder has become the heartbeat of the Madrid team; the man that makes the side tick.
Toni Kroos may well have been signed in the summer to replace the outgoing Alonso, but it has been Modrić that has made the transition to life after the cultured Spaniard so successful.
The former Tottenham deep-lying playmaker controls the tempo and rhythm of Madrid’s play when they have the ball, similar to what Alonso has done so expertly since moving to Bayern Munich.
However, Modrić’s work-rate and harrying of the side’s opposition when Madrid do not have the ball has become a key facet of the side’s play also – especially given that Ancelotti selects his team without the presence of an out-and-out defensive midfielder.
With Modrić not expected to be back in the selection reckoning until February, the Italian coach has decisions to make on who to play in the diminutive schemer’s absence and just how the side will be impacted without the presence of their creative talisman.
Given the strength in depth at Ancelotti’s disposal, there are options for replacing Modrić.
Sami Khedira is seemingly in a position to take advantage of his team-mate’s misfortune and is the most established option to fill the void.
The Germany international has suffered from injury this campaign but has also been the victim of an effective central midfield partnership between Modrić and Kroos.
Four substitute appearances in La Liga are the sum of Khedira’s domestic football thus far in 2014-15 and the former Stuttgart midfielder will be keen to see his time on the pitch increase in Modrić’s absence.
Although Khedira’s energy and willingness to run is similar to the man he would replace in the Madrid team, he certainly does not have the distribution skills of Modrić, despite offering a more direct option from the heart of the side.
With his contract expiring this summer however, this is an excellent opportunity for the German to earn a new deal or put himself firmly in the shop window.
The deployment of Asier Illarramendi is also an excellent option and the 24-year-old’s style of play is certainly more similar to Modrić than that of Khedira.
Since leaving Real Sociedad in a big-money move in the summer of 2012 the Spaniard has found a place in the starting XI hard to come by and has largely been a bit-part player.
As such llarramendi will hope to get the nod from Ancelotti and prove to the club’s fanbase that he is up to the task of playing consistently for the Spanish capital city side.
The third option, other than introducing a youth product such as Álvaro Medrán, is dropping Isco into a deeper position to play alongside Kroos.
The ex-Malaga man has been in top form this term and has forced his way into the reckoning despite the summer arrival of James Rodríguez.
Isco has played in the centre of the park on plenty of previous occasions, but limiting his attacking instincts could well throw the balance of the side and stifle a player in form.
Regardless of whether it is Khedira, Illarramendi or Isco that fills Modrić’s boots for the foreseeable future, the Croatian’s significant influence on the team and unique skillset are likely to be highlighted even further by his unavailability.