By Miguel Churruca
Just like a devastating earthquake, the injury to Sami Khedira tore through the heart of Real Madrid's midfield. When the German went down clutching his knee in the recent friendly against Italy, alarm bells sounded and the shock waves were felt by Blancos boss Carlo Ancelotti over in the Spanish capital. The damage was destructive; the impact, considerable.
Madrid's worst fears were soon confirmed as Khedira was ruled out for the rest of the season with a tear to his anterior cruciate ligament. He must also be doubtful for next summer's World Cup in Brazl, not that Madrid will be thinking about that - instead looking first after their own interests in the remainder of the current campaign.
Consoled by the recent return of Xabi Alonso (shortly before Khedira's injury), Madrid must now find the "balance" of which Ancelotti so often speaks to compete in three competitions this season: La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.
Here, Goal takes a look at the different options available to Ancelotti, depending on the system he prefers. From a sole 'pivot' with two midfielders further forward to a 'double pivot' paired with an attacking playmaker and a three-man midfield in the Italian's most offensive formation, the options are as follows:
With eight players a fixture in the line-up - Diego Lopez, Dani Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema - the other three midfield positions are alternated depending on the system.
In each of them, the fundamental figure of Xabi Alonso is retained. A key component both defensively and offensively in this Madrid line-up make the former Liverpool man a must in any of Ancelotti's line-ups. Indeed, the Basque's tactical qualities have seen him compared to Ancelotti the player, while he is considered to be the coach's on-pitch leader at Madrid.
The other positions are occupied by all-rounder Asier Illarramendi, the more technical Luka Modric, playmaker Isco and holding midfielder Casemiro, depending on whether Ancelotti wishes to field a more defensive-minded or attacking line-up. Either way, in terms of personnel, the Italian has plenty of players to choose from in the centre of the park - even without Khedira.