Ricardo Carvalho will go down as one of the best defenders of all time. From his days at Porto to his long tenure at Chelsea, and finally his days in Madrid, he's been a solid, dependable defender. His partnership with John Terry might be one of the best soccer has seen.
He's a defender with impressive silverware to his name: FA Cup, Copa del Rey, UEFA Champion's League, Premier League and Portuguese Primera Division titles. He's not without his individual awards either, being named best defender in the 2003-2004 UEFA Champion's League and voted by fellow Chelsea players as the team's player of the year. He's had a stellar career.
That said, his injury and lack of play at Real Madrid this season has been wonderful for Madrid. Carvalho is still a good defender, but to say he's world class is stretching it. He'll be 34 in May and it is showing.
He's lost pace over the years, and it's revealed in El Clasicos when he's tasked to keep up with the likes of Lionel Messi and David Villa (and he's still yet to face Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas, two very quick players). His defending style is risky; he's described as a master of the "dark arts" of soccer: shirt grabbing, sly fouls, and pushing. Los Blancos don't need to take those risks in big games.
With Carvalho out, Sergio Ramos, arguably the best right back in the world, has been moved to center back. The change has been stunning. His work in the center might just be better than his work on the flanks.
Usually he has a big time discipline problem, ranking high in yellow and red cards in La Liga for the past few season (at just 25 years old he is Madrid's all-time red card leader), this season he's not even top 25 for yellow cards. Partnering him with Pepe has led to what is very likely the best center back combination in all of soccer.
Ramos' incredible form is not the only reason to be happy with Carvalho's absence. With the Portuguese gone, Raphael Varane, the highly promising, young, French defender, has gotten more chances to perform and show what Real Madrid's future holds.
Will Ricardo Carvalho ever be a regular starter at Madrid again?
Varane isn't the only one whose gotten a chance to shine with Carvalho's injury. With Ramos moved to the center, the free right-back spot has given chances to Lassana Diarra, Alvaro Arbeloa, and Fabio Coentrao. Diarra had fallen highly out of favor under Mourinho, and with the midfield filling up with the signings of Coentrao and Nuri Sahin, it looked like Diarra would see little, if any starting time.
Granted, he hasn't played a whole lot this season, but he has definitely seen more time on the pitch then he would have otherwise. He's performed very well when given the chance, which will be valuable should Madrid consider him for the future or for selling him. Arbeloa has proven to be a quality backup, and Coentrao has gotten more chances to play, with Marcelo the clear starter in Coentrao's preferred left back role.
His absolute shutdown of the right side in the previous El Clasico will give him a case to be the everyday right back.
If Carvalho does return before the season ends, don't expect him to be a regular starter. Mourinho is no fool and will see no reason to change a defensive tandem that works so well.