Real Madrid will be without Casemiro for 1-2 months after the midfielder was diagnosed with a fractured fibula. Now, Zinedine Zidane will have to figure out how to proceed without the man who, maybe more than anyone, helped him turn around the Merengues when Zidane took over midway through last season and won the Champions League.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are obviously Real Madrid’s stars, with Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos vital to the team’s success as well. But the Merengues can function without any one of them. They have so much depth around the pitch that there is always another man ready to step in. If Ronaldo is out, they turn to Bale. Even if both are out, James Rodriguez gets involved. Toni Kroos, Alvaro Morata, Lucas Vazquez, Isco and Raphael Varane are all there for the Merengues to call upon when needed, either to step into the starting lineup or just carry more responsibility in a star’s absence.
There is nobody to fill in for Casemiro. He is Real Madrid’s lone defensive midfielder, and really their only midfielder even halfway capable of tackling, playing with physicality and shielding the back line. It’s a set of skills that club president Florentino Perez has rarely valued or shown any interest in bringing to the team. While there was enough talent elsewhere on the pitch to mitigate their softness through the middle — Carlo Ancelotti’s ability to shape the team so it hid that weakness and won the Champions League in 2014 was remarkable — it didn’t change the fact that they were vulnerable.
Inserting Casemiro into the starting lineup was one of Zidane’s first moves when he took over for Rafa Benitez last season and it paid dividends immediately. The back line was no longer so regularly exposed and with the knowledge that there was someone holding down the midfield against the counter, the rest of Real Madrid’s players were able to go forward without worry. That’s not to say that Casemiro was the only reason Real Madrid turned things around because that’s far from the truth. Zidane made a lot of changes, and most importantly changed the attitude of some key players who were disenchanted under Benitez, but Casemiro played a big role in it.
Now Real Madrid will have to handle at least a month, if not two, without the Brazilian. And because they don’t have another defensive midfielder on the team or anything remotely close, they don’t have a replacement for him either. Fortunately, the Merengues have a relatively easy fixture list in La Liga, so long as Casemiro returns in time for the November 20 clash against Atletico Madrid, but a slip up in the Champions League without the midfielder could see them finish behind Borussia Dortmund and give them a tougher run through the knockout stages.
Zidane has worked magic before, but part of that was Casemiro. Now he has to do it to make up for the Brazilian’s absence.