Real Madrid: 5 Biggest Selection Headaches for Carlo Ancelotti
After leading Real Madrid to the club's 10th European title in May following a truly prolific continental run, Carlo Ancelotti's outfit appeared to be shaping up ominously for a lethal 2014-15 campaign.
Having successfully navigated through the initial adjustment phase under the Italian—a transition that included a change in shape to best cater for Gareth Bale—it seemed Los Blancos were set to have a cohesive edge over their two primary La Liga rivals next season.
That, however, has all changed amid another characteristic summer escapade from club president Florentino Perez, who, through his acquisition of James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos, has forced Ancelotti to undertake another period of reconstruction.
Now, a side that seemed set to have the early-season running over a rejigged Atletico Madrid and a Barcelona team preparing to modify their methods to integrate Luis Suarez has selection headaches of its own.
Across the following slides, we examine the five most pressing selection quandaries facing Real Madrid's decorated manager ahead of the new season.
How to Create Room for a No. 10?
It all began to click last season for Real Madrid when Carlo Ancelotti switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a dynamic and fluid 4-3-3.
Using Karim Benzema as something of a fulcrum in the centre of the attack, the manager unearthed a system that beautifully harnessed the explosive capabilities of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale on either flank, forming the most bedazzling front three in football.
Now, with the arrival of James Rodriguez, Ancelotti will be forced to move back to the discarded 4-2-3-1 in order to create the No. 10 role that the Colombian thrives in.
Of course, the 23-year-old is an exquisite architect in attack and could prove to thrive in the role that Isco couldn't quite nail last season, but Rodriguez's presence in a new formation will instantly disrupt the unrivalled flow that had been formed between Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema.
Frustratingly, Los Blancos will have to endure the same familiarisation period all over again.
But if Navas does arrive at the Bernabeu in time for the new season, Carlo Ancelotti will have a headache in deciding which of his available goalkeepers to deploy as his No. 1, should both Diego Lopez and Iker Casillas remain in the Spanish capital.
Fresh from a superb season with Levante and a brilliant World Cup campaign in Brazil, Navas might present the most appealing option for the manager as he looks to bolster a defence that continues to hold Los Blancos back.
However, both familiarity with the back four and extensive experience are key factors to a goalkeeper's success across the gruelling domestic season, which could see either Lopez or Casillas preferred.
Used as Ancelotti's first-choice last term, Lopez—who, despite conjecture, is going nowhere according to his agent, via Goal—would appear to be the most obvious candidate in goal for the manager.
Yet, if he stays, perhaps most fascinating in this situation will be the manager's use of Casillas, a Madrid and Spanish icon whose wretched run of recent form has severely hurt his stocks, but still sits in—theoretically, at least—his prime years as a 'keeper at 33 years of age.
Daniel Carvajal or Alvaro Arbeloa at Right-Back?
An injury-interrupted season for Alvaro Arbeloa opened the door for Daniel Carvajal last season, seeing the 22-year-old grab his opportunity to be among La Liga's brightest young talents in 2013-14.
Utilising his running power down the right sideline, the promising Spaniard added another dynamic to Real Madrid's attacking forays.
Yet, Carvajal still has improvements to make defensively from a positional perspective—something that was evident most recently in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid in May.
Thus, Carlo Ancelotti has a small conundrum at right-back.
Needing to ensure his outfit retains its dynamism going forward, the manager must also orchestrate greater defensive solidarity among his players if Los Blancos are to reclaim the league title in 2014-15.
That will mean striking a balance between the attacking prowess offered by Carvajal and the greater defensive capabilities inherent in Arbeloa's game.
Who to Pair in Central Midfield?
As mentioned, the arrival of James Rodriguez in Madrid will likely see Los Blancos adopt a 4-2-3-1 shape for the bulk of the new season, which will include a pair of midfielders used as a double pivot behind the side's attacking quartet.
Upon his return from injury last term, Xabi Alonso formed a cohesive partnership with Luka Modric in the centre of Carlo Ancelotti's lineup and the pair represent the most natural options to fulfil such duties again.
However, with the team's balance skewed further forward after the addition of Rodriguez, there'll be an added defensive responsibility on the central pairing this time around.
That presents challenges for Ancelotti, given that Alonso's athletic deficiencies were exposed in his holding role for Spain at the World Cup, while both Modric and Toni Kroos—the other new piece the manager must fit into his side—are more inclined to be creative and attack than sit and hold.
Of course, for the majority of Real Madrid's clashes with inferior opponents, it's an issue that will be nullified by the team's general dominance. Against other heavyweights in both Spain and Europe, however, it could be a cause for concern.
Like elsewhere on the pitch, finding the right balance will be a result of experimentation.
What to Do with Toni Kroos?
Toni Kroos is a naturally attacking midfielder and excelled in an advanced role for Germany at this summer's World Cup.
But where does he fit in this Real Madrid lineup, now that James Rodriguez has been signed?
No one is replacing Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale on the left and right, meaning the Colombian will be deployed centrally in a 4-2-3-1.
After all, Carlo Ancelotti can't use a £63 million signing—Rodriguez's final fee, according to The Daily Telegraph—as a substitute of any kind.
That leaves one of the central-midfield positions behind Rodriguez, Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema for Kroos to fill, meaning he must displace one of Xabi Alonso or Luka Modric.
Alongside Modric, the German would provide Los Blancos with unrivalled creativity from deeper areas, but would also leave the back four with little in the way of cover.
Yet, it's difficult to see Kroos edging out Modric and forming a partnership with Alonso, given the Croatian's superb season under Ancelotti last term.
It's difficult, therefore, to find a position Kroos can seamlessly fit into in 2014-15.