REAL MADRID

Modric is no longer a sure-fire starter for Real Madrid

Zidane likes to play Valverde in the middle for the energy he brings as Modric, the reigning Ballon d'Or winner, struggles to break into the team.

A Ballon d'Or holder on the bench. It's a little over a month until we find out who the next winner of the best footballer in the world for 2019 is. And until then, Luka Modric is the holder of the award but he is not an undisputed starter under Zinedine Zidane anymore. 

Of the three 'clásico' midfielders Kroos and Casemiro remain in Zidane's starting XI without a doubt but Modric has seen his grip on that third midfield spot slip. The Croatian did come on for the last 30 minutes against Leganés but the score was 3-0 and the opposition were already thinking about the weekend. That substitution might have been made to give Kroos a rest rather than anything else. 

After the Clásico was postponed, it seemed a perfect chance to play Modric in a game at home against a struggling opponent. The 34-year-old is just coming back from injury and it would have been a nice opportunity to get him back up to speed and also a chance to rest Casemiro, who is at risk of overdoing it. But Zidane went with the formula that has worked for him in the recent past: Kroos, Casemiro and Valverde.

Zidane is very comfortable with the Uruguayan in midfield and Real Madrid look more dynamic with him in the team. His energy has saved Casemiro from being spread too thin also. The fresh legs of a keen 21-year-old versus the experience of the 34-year-old.

 The result of the injuries, suspension and Valverde eating into his minutes has resulted in Modric's fewest minutes in a Real Madrid jersey. This year he has played 276 minutes, which is down on his previous worst start in 2012-13 when he played 497 minutes and then last season when he played 937.