Centre-back suffers team's third serious knee injury and misses the entire season

Real Madrid lose Alaba on Bernabeu's first big night under cover

PHOTO/NURPHOTO VÍA AFP/GUILLERMO MARTÍNEZ - Jude Bellingham del Real Madrid celebra un gol durante el partido de La Liga 2023/24 entre el Real Madrid y el Villarreal en el Estadio Santiago Bernabéu en Madrid, España, el 17 de diciembre de 2023
PHOTO/NURPHOTO VIA AFP/GUILLERMO MARTINEZ - Real Madrid's Jude Bellingham celebrates a goal during the La Liga 2023/24 match between Real Madrid and Villarreal at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, Spain, 17 December 2023

The last game at the Santiago Bernabéu in 2023 was with the retractable roof closed. That big signing that many were waiting for made an appearance on a cold December night against Villarreal to the delight of fans who are already looking to 2024 as the year of the opening, the return of Julio Iglesias and how Madrid will become the capital of the world when the NFL steps on the grass of the Castellana.   

But until those moments arrive, Ancelotti's team must face the worst part of the season that will begin in January. In that month comes the Copa del Rey against Arandina and the discomfort of playing against such opponents, the trip to the Arabian Super Cup where Atlético de Madrid await them in the semi-finals, La Liga and the prospect of the last 16 of the Champions League against Leipzig.

And all that without three players injured for many months. To the misfortunes of Courtois and Militao was added that of Alaba in the match against Villarreal. Another broken cruciate and another nine months out of action. Rüdiger and Nacho are not enough to last until May and Ancelotti has already said in a press conference that a signing is needed for the back line to finish the season with guarantees.   

PHOTO/AFP/THOMAS COEX - El delantero español del Real Madrid Brahim Díaz abraza al centrocampista inglés del Real Madrid Jude Bellingham tras marcar el tercer gol de su equipo durante el partido de fútbol de la Liga española entre el Real Madrid CF y el Villarreal CF en el estadio Santiago Bernabéu de Madrid el 17 de diciembre de 2023
PHOTO/AFP/THOMAS COEX - Real Madrid's Spanish striker Brahim Diaz embraces Real Madrid's English midfielder Jude Bellingham after scoring his team's third goal during the Spanish La Liga football match between Real Madrid CF and Villarreal CF at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on December 17, 2023

The season is terrifying for the knees of the players in La Liga. Silva, Courtois, Militao, Gavi, Alaba, Joel Roca, Arambarri, Yeremy Pino and Sedlar will miss the season or return to play a few minutes in April or May, when everything is settled. There is no reason for this to happen no matter how full the fixture list is. Perhaps playing a lot is conducive to more injuries, but a torn ligament is bad luck. In fact, Real Madrid's three serious injuries have been in different places. Courtois training at Valdebebas, Militao at San Mamés and Alaba at the Bernabéu, so grass is ruled out as the cause.   

Alaba's replacement will be a mystery. The big Portuguese centre-backs are asking for almost 80 million euros, the youth academy is not so good or they are injured and there is only one 20-22 year old player left who can perform immediately and who could make a career in white. It doesn't look like Real Madrid want to do the same business as they did with Kepa in defence. The Basque goalkeeper has lost his starting place, which he now shares with Lunin, who has gone from stinking for Ancelotti in the summer to trusting him in these last games of the year while waiting to find out who will play in the big Champions League and La Liga games in February

PHOTO/NURPHOTO VÍA AFP/GUILLERMO MARTÍNEZ - Carlo Ancelotti, entrenador del Real Madrid, observa el partido de la Liga 2023/24 entre el Real Madrid y el Villarreal en el estadio Santiago Bernabéu en Madrid, España, el 17 de diciembre de 2023
PHOTO/NURPHOTO VIA AFP/GUILLERMO MARTINEZ - Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti looks on during the La Liga 2023/24 match between Real Madrid and Villarreal at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, on December 17, 2023

Ancelotti has been forced to use substitutes. Ceballos and Brahim have shown the Italian that they have quality and that he can move the bench much more than he has been used to in recent years. The Spanish-Moroccan scored a goal with a solo move that showed his self-confidence and that he already has the skills to get rid of Modric and play at his own pace. Lucas Vázquez and Joselu are also getting more playing time. They show that they are top level players and solvent players for the second half of the season.

And then there is Bellingham. The Englishman is the counterpart to White's misfortunes with injuries. At least, that the great signing who came to play in the centre of the field will be the orchestra conductor of the Bernabéu indoors, with a special acoustics that will only be noticed in the big moments because there is no more animation in the stands.

Seven points to Barça may be enough, but what lies ahead, coupled with the departures, will dictate the future of Real Madrid in all competitions. For the moment, a defensive signing is essential if Ancelotti is to do something big before heading to Brazil.