Xabi Alonso Suspension Is Champions League Dilemma for Real Madrid Midfield

Paul Wilkes@@paulwilkesfootyFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2014

Real's Xabi Alonso attends a news conference after a training session in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Real Madrid will face Bayern Munich in a first leg semifinal Champions League soccer match on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gabriel Pecot)
Gabriel Pecot/Associated Press

"The rule is not fair at all - because you are playing for 13 games, three yellows cards is more than easy to be shown, it needs to be changed," explained Xabi Alonso after he picked another booking against Bayern Munich, via the Daily Mail.

That challenge meant he will miss the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid on the weekend. When you explain it in those terms, it does seem a little harsh, but it was poor judgment to even make the tackle.

The foul was unwarranted due to the position and the dominance that Real Madrid had developed. However, there's always an element of sympathy for any player who is forced to miss such a huge occasion.

Luckily for Alonso, the brilliance of his career means he has played, won and scored in a European Cup final for Liverpool and also graced a World Cup final.

The biggest problem is for Carlo Ancelotti, as he now has to replace the Spanish international. While the Italian is not short of midfield options, it's the combination of attributes that should determine the line-up.

The return of Sami Khedira from long-term injury has been well-timed, but the German isn't a natural replacement in the mould of Alonso. That means to get him onto the pitch; Ancelotti would need to reshape the central area.

When Alonso was injured at the start of the season, Khedira and Luka Modric would play together in a double pivot. They initially struggled with their understanding and to decide which one should sit in the front of the back four.

Either by instruction or by intuition, Modric began to occupy the deep-lying playmaker role so that Khedira could maintain his box-to-box style.

When Alonso came back into the squad at the start of November, Ancelotti switched to a 4-3-3. His preferred trio of Alonso, Khedira and Modric only managed to feature twice before Khedira was hurt on international duty.

The brilliant form of Angel Di Maria means that Madrid's midfield didn't suffer as much as originally thought. Di Maria couldn't match Khedira's physicality, but he was able to provide the energy and directness.

Los Blancos' defensive record improved considerably toward the end of the calendar year. The concentration of Pepe and Sergio Ramos was significant, but the positional sense of Alonso shouldn't be understated.

He completes more tackles and interceptions than any other midfielder at the club, via Whoscored. In the 15 league games that Alonso didn't start this season, they kept only three clean sheets. Of the 23 league matches he did start, it was a massive 13 shutouts.

In Lisbon, Khedira could play alongside Di Maria with Modric at the base of the triangle. The Croatian has a greater mobility than Alonso, while his passing range is of an equally high standard.

Still, that would mean less creativity further forward. Another solution is for Asier Illarramendi to be the deepest midfielder and for Modric to occupy his natural position.

Illarramendi has been a little disappointing during his debut campaign at the Bernabeu, but his selection against Espanyol last Saturday shows he's in Ancelotti's thinking. The coach seems to view it as a straight choice between Illarramendi and Khedira as he told the post-match press, via Marca.

He has a chance; I have a week to decide what my team will be but I am happy because he has played with rhythm and intensity and took up good positions on the pitch ... I am happy with the game he has played. Khedira is coming back from a difficult injury which has kept him out for a long time, so we have to take that into consideration and so, yes, Illarra has a chance.

Given the magnitude of the match, it would show the faith Ancelotti has in the youngster if he was given the nod over the more experienced Khedira, although in terms of tactical balance it would probably be the right decision.