Real Madrid’s pre-season has not be going particularly well.
Marquee signing David Alaba has contracted coronavirus, they lost to Rangers and their injury list is longer than a Leonard Cohen song.
Just when they thought things could not get any worse, Toni Kroos has succumbed to a recurring groin problem that is likely to rule him out for a minimum of six weeks.
With their La Liga opener away at Alaves getting increasingly close, here are some of the ways Carlo Ancelotti might choose to plug his Kroos-shaped hole.
Fede Valverde is no stranger to deputising for Kroos. During the tail end of the 2020/21 campaign, when the German was ruled out with coronavirus, Valverde filled in admirably.
In fact, in each of the three games where he replaced Kroos at the end of the season Real ran out winners.
Many have tipped the Uruguayan to reach new heights this season and if he impresses in his elder’s absence again, he will be even harder to ignore. Then again, it is hard to shake the feeling that he might just be a placeholder for the possible arrival of Paul Pogba next summer.
Despite being heralded as the answer to Real’s centre-back problem, Alaba may end up helping Real to solve their midfield conundrum instead.
It is a position that he has plenty of experience in, clocking up close to 80 games in the middle of the park so far. Whether Ancelotti trusts his defenders to cope with the Austrian’s absence is another matter.
Take Alaba out of the back line and Ancelotti will likely be left with a centre-back pairing of Nacho and Eder Militao. That does not fill us with much confidence, particularly for Champions League games.
Martin Odegaard is keen to fight for his place at the Santiago Bernabeu and Kroos’ injury might have afforded him the perfect opportunity to prove himself.
His inclusion would require some shuffling around from the 4-3-3 most are expecting Ancelotti to go with this season. Luka Modric will likely to be asked to play a deeper role alongside Casemiro to relieve Odegaard of some defensive responsibility.
Although he lacks the star power of Real midfielders of years gone by, there is some magic hidden inside the ex-Arsenal loanee. Perhaps all he needs is a coach to show some faith in him. Could Ancelotti be that man?
Like Odegaard, Isco has been lost in the shuffle at Real in recent seasons. However, with Kroos out injured there might finally be a way back to the first team for the midfielder.
What’s great about Isco is that he is capable of playing as a number eight or number ten, allowing his side to shift between a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 in possession.
He will be desperate to prove himself this season as well, after failing to net a single goal in all competitions last time out.
Ancelotti has made it clear that fans should not expect any fireworks in the transfer window.
The thing is, he said that before Kroos was struck down by another injury. They obviously would not be able to break the bank – with their financial situation still perilous – but there must be space on the wage bill for a cheeky loan.
Inter might be worth targeting. There are keen to reduce their wage bill and drafting in Stefano Sensi or (rather more hopefully) Marcelo Brozovic could do no harm.
Paris Saint-Germain have a particularly flabby squad and are looking to raise funds for next summer’s annual transfer bonanza. Idrissa Gueye or, more aptly, Leandro Paredes might be worth targeting on cheap deals.
Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz is another option, though he would likely cost Real money that they do not have right now.