Ryan: With Raphael Varane and Pepe injured, who slots in alongside Sergio Ramos and how does this alter the Real Madrid defense?
Kiyan: Nacho slides in, without much drop-off. At this point, Nacho's name on the team sheet is not rare, and he's been so reliable over the past couple years that there is no longer much concern when Varane and Pepe aren't there.
That's the good news. The bad news: After Nacho and Ramos, there isn't a single makeshift 5th choice center back in the squad. Ramos is one yellow away from missing the 2nd leg, and given his hot head, it's not out of the realm of possibility he gets trolled (or, just out of necessity), lunges in a swipe at Lewandowski's legs. If that happens, you're looking at either someone from Castilla (which would never happen on this stage, and no one from the youth level is currently good enough to make the leap), or Casemiro as a central defender. If it comes down to that, it could get ugly. Casemiro played center back once only. It was a 3-5-2 where he stayed central, and his weakness passing out of the back was disastrous. He gave away the ball plenty, and Ancelotti could aim to press him like a madman to retain possession high up the pitch.
Ryan: Casemiro has longed seemed to be just a classical #6. How does he work in Real Madrid's midfield and how will Real Madrid stop the likes of Thomas Müller, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben?
Kiyan: He's almost too classical of a #6. He's a dinosaur in today's modern football -- a destroyer who breaks legs and steals fouls. He can be really good at snuffing out counter attacks and retaining possession, but he's also a liability passing out of the anchoring position, and smart opposing coaches know they can coax him into losing the ball if they swarm him while others cut off passing lanes. In that sense, he's the anti-Kroos, who's really press-resistant. That's one position in the team I really feel Real Madrid could upgrade with a more dynamic two-way presence. This player exists, to be sure: Marcos Llorente, currently on loan at Alaves who can already do everything Casemiro does defensively while being a better ball-carrier.
Ryan: What has changed at Real Madrid since Zinedine Zidane took over from Carlo Ancelotti?
In a way, anything and everything under the sun, and in another way, not much. Ancelotti is sorely missed, even if at the time a lot of fans criticized his lack of rotations. Morale was really good with Carlo in Madrid, and his respectable character made him well-loved. One thing to be said about Carlo was that once he found the formula to use this team (4-3-3), he rode with it until the edges of the earth without ever deviating from it. While Zidane is Carlo's kindred spiritual brother when it comes to being well loved and being a motivational and well-respected figure; he's the anti-Carlo when it comes to rotations. He shuffles formations and players constantly, which can gut rhythm and continuity. For example, we'll see Asensio and Kovacic play incredible games against big opponents, but we'll go a month without seeing them again because of the wonky rotation schedule.
It's weird. Both coaches are extreme in their methods. Surely there's a balance somewhere in the middle that accommodates both rest and continuity.
Oh yeah, and somewhere sandwiched in between this madness was Rafa Benitez.
Ryan: Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 12 fewer goals than Robert Lewandowski. When do we start saying the modern game has passed him by?
Ha. I'll say this: I'm in a small camp that believes Real Madrid need to move on from Ronaldo soon in order to groom the future around Bale, James, and Asensio. But even I would say Ronaldo has been really impressive this season -- particularly in 2017. The stats just aren't there, sure, but the eye-test is great, and there are moments in big games (watch Napoli 1st leg), where I thought we were watching 2010 Ronaldo, where he was skipping past players on the wing and formulating chances at an elite level. Don't sleep on him.