The big question as Real Madrid begin the defence of their Champions League crown against FC Basel this evening is: Will Iker Casillas start?
The legendary keeper has found himself under scrutiny recently, with some sections of the Santiago Bernabeu jeering him off the field after their derby defeat to Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
He has been restored to the starting line-up for the beginning of the campaign following the sale of Diego Lopez, who had been favoured by former boss Jose Mourinho after Casillas had picked up a serious injury during the 2012/13 season.
But Real have endured a torrid start with him back between the sticks. They stumbled over the line against newly-promoted Cordoba before dramatically collapsing from being 2-0 in front at Real Sociedad, as well as losing to their bitter rivals without much of a fight.
In my opinion though, making him a scapegoat for Real’s poor form at the moment could not be more wrong. Yes they have conceded six goals already, but not one of them have been his fault.
Pepe and Sergio Ramos should bare the blame for two of the goals at Sociedad – allowing David Zurutuza to get to the ball too easily on both occasions - as well as Atletico’s second on Saturday when they allowed Raul Garcia to dummy the ball inside penalty area before Arda Turan applied a brilliant finish.
I should add that the other two in the Basque Country came from poor marking on corners, as did Tiago’s opening goal in the Madrid derby.
So how can you blame the goalkeeper for that? Who do those sections of the Bernabeu on Saturday think they are?
I really do not understand why Casillas came out in the post-match interview and accepted the criticism coming his way. Well in all fairness while he did maintain his dignity, he had every right to question them from my point of view.
He might have made a couple of mistakes last season, notably in the Champions League final as well as during Spain’s FIFA World Cup debacle. But what do you expect when he has hardly played and has not had the opportunity to build consistency and confidence? And more to the point, he is human!
And while he may not be the cool, calm presence between the posts that he once was, he is still more than capable and suggestions of him being dropped are nonsense. If he is given a lengthy run in the team and makes mistake after mistake then fine, but you cannot judge him on one or two errors when he has not played consistently for over 18 months.
You only have to glance at his medal and trophy cabinet to get a sniff of his stature and what he has achieved in his career – it is beyond envious. He became Real’s undisputed number one when he was just 18 and made the Spanish goalkeeper’s jersey his own by the age of 21. Then there is the small matter of a FIFA World Cup, two UEFA European Championships, five La Liga titles and three Champions League winners medals just to name a few.
He is 33 now and approaching the twilight of his career, but he has not become a bad goalkeeper overnight – he is still world-class in my opinion. Keylor Navas will be Real’s number one within the next few years, but Casillas still has plenty to offer.
My solution would be to employ Navas in the cup games and less important league or European games, but stick with Casillas domestically and then have the more secure pairing of Ramos and Raphael Varane in front of him.
What is for certain is that Carlo Ancelotti has a big decision on his hands and needs to be very careful with the way he goes about it.