For the first time since November, Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti nearly has his full squad available to him and the Italian now faces a welcome selection headache as we approach the business end of the season.
Madrid will travel to Vallecas on Wednesday, their second of eight matches in a jam-packed April, and Ancelotti will be more than happy to have a fully fit squad at disposal.
James Rodriguez returned to action against Granada in the last match, while Isco Alarcon is also back after suspension. Ancelotti’s selection job gets bit easier for this week, as Gareth Bale is likely to miss against Rayo with a minor foot injury. Otherwise, either Rodriguez or Isco would have to make the bench.
“James is doing very well in his first year, but Isco is also a great player who has had some fantastic games. I am lucky to have them both. It is a good problem to have,” said Ancelotti.
James was mainly seen as a “luxury” signing when he arrived in the Spanish Capital for £63m from Monaco, who themselves paid around £40m for the attacking forward only a year before.
He showed great quality during his days at Porto that led cash-filled Monaco to include him as part of their new project alongside Radamel Falcao.
James was one of the brightest stars for Colombia in the World Cup, taking his country to the quarter finals where he scored six goals including the goal of tournament against Uruguay.
Therefore his signing was not unexpected at Madrid, keeping in Perez’s ambition to sign world’s best players, but eyebrows were raised over his price tag while many wondered where he would fit in an already star-studded squad.
He was not a direct replacement for Angel di Maria as many would have thought. The front three positions were occupied by Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo, and in midfield Toni Kroos and Luka Modric were always going to be regular starters. Isco, Rodriguez, Khedira and Illarramendi were competing for the final midfield spot.
Having paid such a hefty transfer fee, Ancelotti could not keep such an expensive player on the bench. Therefore, Isco, who at that time was not a key first team player for Los Blancos, had to sit out.
Bale’s injury in October gave Isco a chance to cement his place. Also, Modric’s injury allowed the Spaniard and James to play together, and when the Colombian got injured he and Bale retained their spots.
Isco is a great player. An outstanding talent. From time to time this season, he had to fill the roles of three different players – Bale, James and Modric – and he did it in some style.
Bale’s form on the other hand dropped alarmingly in the second half of the season. He was booed by the home fans (his car was attacked after the Clasico last month) and went nine games without scoring post January.
However, Bale is such an explosive player that he can win any matches on his own. By scoring in two cup finals last season he has proved that he is a player for the big occasion. No wonder why Ancelotti refuses to drop him under any normal circumstances.
James enjoyed a good first season at the club. He notched up 12 goals and registered nine assists in all competitions. He adds lot more to the game than just scoring goals and providing key passes. He brings discipline and a tremendous work ethic in the team. Madrid endured a difficult phase without him, failing to win in five matches (losing four) in the nine games he had missed.
It is no coincidence that Madrid have lost only once this season when the trio of Modric, James and Kroos have played together.
The ‘BBC’ have always shone when the midfield trio have been behind them. With him, Madrid’s attacks are more sharper and relentless.
With all the key players are back, Ancelotti will be hoping his team to recapture the old form they found before Christmas during their 22-match winning run. The former Chelsea manager will rely on squad rotation but with big games coming up, he needs to find his strongest line-up, something probably he doesn’t yet know himself.