10 Games That Proved Why Luka Modric Is the Midfield Maestro

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2017

MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 27:  Luka Modric of Real Madrid in action during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Valencia at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on August 27, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by fotopress/Getty Images)
fotopress/Getty Images

Luka Modric turned 32 on Saturday, a reminder to Real Madrid fans that while he continues to dominate and control games both in La Liga and further afield, the regeneration of the side has to continue.

The Croatian schemer has been a massive success at the Santiago Bernabeu since his transfer from Tottenham Hotspur in 2012, though the early weeks and months didn't indicate that might be the case.

Modric was voted worst signing of the summer by fans on a Marca poll just months after joining Madrid (h/t the Daily Express), but it's safe to say those opinions were too hastily formed. Modric has since won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, three UEFA Champions Leagues and two Club World Cups, all the while being an undisputed first-choice starter under a succession of managers.

Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez and now Zinedine Zidane have all counted on Modric, a guaranteed starter in the centre of the park and a big reason why—in both halves of the pitch—few teams have been able to stand firm against Real Madrid over the past few years.

Here we look back at his five years wearing the white shirt and select the 10 biggest games and performances that displayed his importance, his consistency and his overall ability.

         

Barcelona, La Liga, 2013

Perhaps the first occasion when Modric's quality and importance could begin to be seen for Los Blancos, the Croatian lined up in midfield for a Clasico that saw a handful of starters left out; Cristiano Ronaldo, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Ricardo Carvalho were all benched.

Barcelona were leading the table, and the Santiago Bernabeu demanded a victory—and got one, thanks in no small part to Modric's work rate and delivery, as he set up the winner less than 10 minutes from time for Sergio Ramos.

Still not a regular starter at this point, in March during his first season at Madrid, Modric began to show he could affect play in the biggest of games.

         

Manchester United, Champions League, 2013

Real Madrid's Croatian midfielder Luka Modric (R) vies with Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi during the Spanish league Clasico football match FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 26, 2013.      AFP PHO
JOSEP LAGO/Getty Images

Why rest players for El Clasico? Because this fixture was the next game, a round-of-16 second-leg Champions League clash at Old Trafford after a 1-1 draw in the first leg.

Back came in all the regular starters, but it wasn't until Modric's introduction off the bench—and a red card for Manchester United's Nani—that Madrid stepped up their turnaround.

The Croatian scored one and helped set up the other in the final 25 minutes to produce a comeback victory, on the night and on aggregate.

It is seen by many as the game wherein Modric's Real Madrid career  took off and, as noted by David Ornstein for BBC Sport, Modric felt the belief in his game rise from that "turning point" fixture.

"That helped me a lot, and I could show my quality on the pitch," Modric said in the interview with Ornstein. He went on to start three of Madrid's remaining four Champions League games that season and completed 90 minutes in 10 of their final 13 league fixtures.

It was some turnaround for the midfielder during those two games in the space of a few days.

         

Bayern Munich, Champions League, 2014

Bayern Munich's Austrian midfielder David Alaba (L) and Real Madrid's Croatian midfielder Luka Modric fight for the ball during the UEFA Champions League second-leg semi-final football match FC Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid CF in Munich, southern Germany,
CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

Fast-forward to the following campaign, and Modric was comfortably a fixture in Ancelotti's midfield, with the Italian boss having taken over from Jose Mourinho.

In a 4-3-3 system, Modric started in the centre and dictated Madrid's play, often with Angel Di Maria and Xabi Alonso as his partners. It was creative, technically gifted and, above all else, balanced. Modric was the critical link between the middle and final thirds, exploiting spaces with his passes and intelligent runs from deep.

No game showcased that more than the away-leg destruction of Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals in 2013/14, with Modric running riot against the Bavarians, who constantly looked to attack—and left gaps in midfield that Madrid, led by their then-No. 19, ruthlessly exposed.

His searching passes found the pacey wide men time after time, while his set-piece delivery led to the opening goal in an 4-0 win for Madrid.

       

Atletico Madrid, Champions League, 2014

LISBON, PORTUGAL - MAY 24:  Luka Modric of Real Madrid evades Gabi of Club Atletico de Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico de Madrid at Estadio da Luz on May 24, 2014 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Ge
Lars Baron/Getty Images

That was the semis; later came the final.

While some might suggest Real Madrid were fortunate in the manner of their victory, there was nothing lucky about the part Modric played. He matched Atletico Madrid for work rate, intensity and belief throughout, and it was he who found the telling ball for the stoppage-time equaliser before Real ran out 4-1 winners in extra time.

Atleti, particularly that side, were known for their organisation, workmanlike approach and togetherness, but Modric ran just as much, ensured his side weren't flooded in midfield and still had the quality required too.

        

Wolfsburg, Champions League, 2016

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 12:  Luka Modric of Real Madrid in action during the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg match between Real Madrid CF and VfL Wolfsburg at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 12, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Mike Hewit
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

After Modric missed a large portion of the 2014/15 campaign through injury—during which time his importance to the team became more apparent—he was back on top form the following year.

Madrid ended up winning the Champions League again, but for a short while, it didn't look to be possible after they lost the first leg of their quarter-final tie 2-0 to VfL Wolfsburg. And it could have been far worse, with the Germans missing two or three big chances in that game.

The second leg, back in Madrid, saw Zidane switch things up tactically, and Modric came to the fore. He ran riot in midfield, working fiendishly hard and showing all his scheming inventiveness alongside his ability to find space and outsmart defensive players in the final third.

Madrid won 3-0 to progress, and the attackers took many of the plaudits, but Modric was exceptional that night.

       

Atletico Madrid, Champions League, 2016

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Toni Kroos (L) and Luka Modric of Real Madrid celebrate with the trophy following the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by C
Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

As happened two years previous, Real triumphed over Atletico in the Champions League final, this time on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Even before the game, the focus was on Modric; Atleti midfielder Koke picked the Croatian as the one player he'd love to see switch sides, per Gonzalo Lafora of Marca.

Modric was incredible in the first 45 minutes, a terrier-like presence both on and off the ball, helping his side swarm forward and overpower Atletico. And as Los Rojiblancos came back into the game, he was one of the biggest presences in ensuring Real weren't overrun.

Daniel Taylor of the Guardian described Modric as "outstanding." He created more key passes in the game than any other player, according to BBC Sport, and it later emerged in Marca that Modric was set to take the sixth penalty in the shootout.

Real only needed five, and Modric added another medal to his collection.

         

Atletico Madrid, La Liga, 2016

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 08: Luka Modric of Real Madrid in action during their La Liga match between Real Madrid and Atletico de Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on 08 April 2017 in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Diego Gonzalez Souto / Power Sport Images
Power Sport Images/Getty Images

In 2016/17, Real beat Atleti in league play thanks to a Ronaldo hat-trick and a 3-0 win. Naturally, the No. 7 took the plaudits after his treble playing as a lone striker, but time shouldn't forget the role Modric played in that victory.

Real were better organised, hardworking and utterly clinical in punishing Atleti on the counter, and the central-midfield man was a huge part of it all.

He might not feature in the highlights reel from the match in years to come, but his contribution won't have been overlooked by fans or coaches.

       

Kashima Antlers, Club World Cup, 2016

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - DECEMBER 18:  Luka Modric of Real Madrid in action during the FIFA Club World Cup final match between Real Madrid and Kashima Antlers at International Stadium Yokohama on December 18, 2016 in Yokohama, Japan.  (Photo by Masterpress/Getty
Masterpress/Getty Images

Counterintuitively, the biggest-named club trophy in the world isn't always viewed as the most important, not in Europe at least.

But it's still one that teams and players want on their CV thanks to how hard it is to be able to take part.

In December 2016, Real Madrid beat Kashima in the Club World Cup final, and Modric again ran the show; it didn't matter that it wasn't the highest-profile opposition or even a particularly elite one, he still played his normal game at the normal intensity, and it was far too much for Antlers to handle across 120 minutes.

Modric assisted the opening goal within a couple of minutes and played just over 100 minutes, not being subbed until Real were two goals clear in extra time and the match was wrapped up.

        

Juventus, Champions League, 2017

CARDIFF, WALES - JUNE 03: Luka Modric of Juventus in action during the UEFA Champions League final match between Juventus and Real Madrid at National Stadium of Wales on June 3, 2017 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

What a game of two halves last season's Champions League final was.

Juventus took the match to Real Madrid, pressed and attacked, and they were the better side during the first 45 minutes. Then they made the fatal mistake of sitting back and trying to contain one of the greatest attacking outfits on the planet and were slaughtered.

Modric was present, proactive and unparalleled in both halves, one of the strongest Madrid players on show with his diligence in defensive duties in the first half and key scheming in getting his side back on top after the break.

He again claimed an assist in a big game, this one for the killer third goal, and he received a 9/10 for his "standout performance" from BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

Another big Modric game, another big trophy win for Madrid. It isn't a coincidence.

          

Barcelona, Spanish Super Cup, 2017

MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 16 - Luka Modric (r) of Real Madrid competes for the ball with Andre Filipe Tavares Gomes of FC Barcelona during their Supercopa de Espana Final 2nd Leg match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on
Power Sport Images/Getty Images

The latest of his dominant displays came as recently as August, as an out-of-sorts Barcelona were thoroughly outclassed in El Clasico—more specifically, the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup. The 5-1 aggregate scoreline wasn't at all flattering, and the 2-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu was orchestrated by Modric.

His role, his control and his sheer class underlined the gulf between the great rivals at the start of the season; Barcelona have splashed the cash since then, but do they have a midfielder capable of controlling games in the manner Modric can?

It's debatable, and not just for Barca but for most clubs in Europe. Modric remains one of the best, and he's set to steer Madrid towards more trophy challenges this term.

        

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