Since being appointed as Los Blancos head coach last summer, Carlo Ancelotti has followed in predecessor Jose Mourinho's footsteps by opting for Diego Lopez over Iker Casillas, but perhaps now is time for the Spain keeper to be reinstated as Real's number one.
This year's La Liga title race promises to be one of the most exciting finales in history, with just three points separating Los Blancos, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. At this late stage, the trophy's destination could be settled by a single moment, and having a top custodian between the sticks is absolutely vital. There are few better in world football than the man currently sat on the Bernabeu bench.
Casillas will be remembered as one of the greatest goalkeepers in history. Since breaking into the Blancos first team back in 1999, the brilliant shot-stopper has amassed over 650 appearances for the club and played a pivotal part in much of its recent success.
At times where Real Madrid suffered defensively, Casillas provided a barrier that often proved the difference. He has been a staple of the Bernabeu setup for 15 years and has helped the club to five La Liga titles and one Copa del Rey trophy during his illustrious career. His performances in the Spanish capital have seen him named in the UEFA Team of the Year on five separate occasions.
In addition to those domestic successes, Casillas boasts two Champions League winners medals and has played an instrumental part in the club's current European campaign—in which they are all-but-qualified for the quarter-final following their 6-1 demolition of Schalke last Wednesday—as he aims to complete the hat-trick with what would be Madrid's unprecedented 10th triumph in Europe.
Casillas' success in club football is arguably surpassed by his international achievements. Having made his debut in the build-up to Euro 2000, the Real Madrid shot-stopper forced his way into the team not long after and has since made more appearances in a Spain shirt than any other player in history.
With 152 caps and counting, Casillas has played at every tournament since the 2002 World Cup and has been a key figure in Spain's dominance of the international scene.
The pinnacle of his international career came courtesy of the World Cup triumph in South Africa four years ago, an achievement that is sandwiched between European successes, and Casillas is looking to make it four consecutive victories in Brazil later this year.
In spite of his Bernabeu plight, Casillas remains Vicente del Bosque's number one for Spain.
Casillas' CV stands amongst the greatest in history and success is engrained in his DNA. That wealth of experience would stand him in great stead for the challenge ahead as Madrid attempt to complete a magnificent treble.
That's not to detract from Lopez's quality; the current Real Madrid custodian has been in fine form this season and a record of 26 goals conceded in as many matches makes him the third-most economical goalkeeper in La Liga—only Barcelona and Atletico have shipped fewer goals than Los Blancos this term.
Within that spell were four consecutive league shutouts at the start of 2014 to help Madrid to a club-record eight games without conceding. However, Lopez's part in that club record was overshadowed by Casillas. Having already helped Madrid to that club accolade, the skipper then set a new all-time Spanish record by extending his personal run without conceding to 952 minutes before Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's late consolation goal on Wednesday.
Casillas additionally became the first goalkeeper in history to reach the Copa del Rey final without conceding.
The 32-year-old's presence naturally has a calming effect on his defenders, who know they can rely on the consistent shot-stopper to bail them out when required. In turn that breathes confidence throughout the entire team and for that reason he should retain the gloves in all three competitions.
Lopez has been brilliant this season but the second Atletico goal proved that Casillas deserves a return to league action. There is little doubt that the club captain would have saved Gabi's fairly tame effort and it is a mistake that could come back to haunt Los Blancos.
Even with Ronaldo's late leveller, Atletico now lead the all-important head-to-head and that could prove the difference come the season's end. Ancelotti's men dare not make the same mistake against Barcelona, and that should mean only one outcome: a return for Casillas.
With Real Madrid still fighting for three trophies, this could become one of the greatest campaigns in the club's history. It seems only right that their captain, and most-capped goalkeeper, leads them to their destiny.
Appearance stats from SoccerWay.
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