January freeze beckons for Real outcasts

Posted by Rob Train

Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid/Getty ImagesCould Angel di Maria, left, and Kaka be leaving the Bernabeu?

As the air in Madrid drops to around about freezing -- about the same temperature as the working relationship between Jose Mourinho and Florentino Perez -- thoughts turn to the January transfer window.

It may well prove to be Mourinho's last in the Spanish capital as he edges ever closer to the Bernabeu revolving door. The Portuguese coach's refusal to explicitly rule out a summer move and the Real board's less-than-convincing backing of its firebrand focal point makes Real's medium-term future less than stable. In the meantime there is the decima, Real's obsessive chase for a tenth European crown, to consider.

- Phil Ball - Real's corridors of power

The draw for the first phase of the knockout stages is December 20 and Perez, who handles the purse strings like Edward Scissorhands if he smells the right deal, will likely back Mourinho to a point in the pursuit of European glory - glory overdue considering Real's colossal outlay since 2002.

The question is, where does Real need a spot of strengthening, and who will give way? A couple of names immediately present themselves, one of which would signal a rise in the Bernabeu mercury by shifting a certain Brazilian to semi-retirement in a galaxy far, far away...

Kaka: Personally, I love him. I would happily adopt the man who belongs to God, if the Almighty decided to take a vacation. And I'd be more than happy to see him turn out for my lot, Charlton Athletic. Unlikely, I concede, but we did sign John Barnes once... The fact remains that this is a footballer who can still turn in an Oscar-worthy performance despite being a little past his best. Think Jack Nicholson.

Unlike the veteran thespian, Kaka can still do more than one tired turn. He proved that in a rare outing against Ajax where he scored an absolute cracker and oozed the sort of assured class that will still attract interest from Europe's big guns if Perez decides his expensive plaything deserves a final hurrah.

I love Jack Nicholson too. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a personal favorite. And in my humble opinion, Real would need to get seriously stuck into Nurse Ratched's meds cabinet to discard the Brazilian. Jose Rodriguez is a little way off ready to fill the boots of a Ballon d'Or winner and Luka Modric is still yet to entirely find his role in the team.

If there is any justice in the football world Kaka will be snapped up by a team befitting of a player of his undoubted quality. Just imagine what he might do for Liverpool, PSG or a fading Milan. He might need to accept a serious pay cut, though.

Possible (rumored, however spuriously and window-eligible) replacements: Daniele di Rossi, David Silva, Isco, Alen Halilovic.

Ricardo Carvalho: The veteran Portuguese stopper is clearly surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu. Raphael Varane is the preferred backup to Pepe and Sergio Ramos, with the added bonus he can fill at right back at a pinch, as he did briefly in Real's match against Valladolid at the weekend. Raul Albiol, the Winston Bogarde of Madrid's current squad, rarely makes it off the bench. Real has problems at left back when Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao are out, as evidenced by Nacho's unceremonious hauling-off at half time in Castilla-La Mancha.

Where Real could do with a bit of depth is at right back, where Alvaro Arbeloa has little in the way of competition. Ramos is more than familiar with the role but is a far better center-half, as Mourinho himself was quick enough to spot. A versatile fullback who can fill a gap in the middle when either Ramos or Pepe are suspended, or the left back slot is bare, wouldn't be a bad addition. Borussia Dortmund's Lukasz Piszczek is one such player.

Possible replacements: Dante, Giorgio Chiellini, Mats Hummels.

Angel di Maria: Sacrilege? Until very recently, yes. But the emergence of Jose Callejon as a serious threat to the Argentinean's untouchable status on the right wing may make Mourinho rethink his two-caste system at the club. Di Maria still runs about a lot, and is better at tracking back than most of Real's forward players, but his influence is waning as Callejon's waxes.

A good price can still be commanded by Real for the winger. Di Maria doesn't help his case with his incessant antics -- shall we say "advantage-gaining" for the sake of his lawyers? -- and if he spent a little more time on his feet his standing at the club might be more secure. Callejon has proved himself more than willing to fill whatever role is asked of him recently, and he's banging in the goals as well. José's little Angel might have found his way into a dead-end street.

Possible replacements: Jakub Blaszczykowski, Marco Reus.

The up-top conundrum: Gonzalo Higuain is a fantastic striker. Karim Benzema is a fantastic striker. So that's that, right? Not exactly. The Argentine Higuain is injury prone and out of action at the moment. Benzema, the French goal-getter, seems to enjoy rotation and hasn't been at his best without Higuain's input. Benzema kissed the ball after bagging at Valladolid after four games without a goal. Alvaro Morata tripped up over his own feet when put through against Alcoyano in the cup, youthful eagerness getting the better of the cantera's great hope.

Real could use a relatively injury-free man to come off the bench and turn a game, especially in the Champions League. Javier Hernandez is not getting much of a regular look-in at Manchester United; hardly surprising when he's competing with Rooney and Van Persie. And Shinji Kagawa is yet to return from injury, signalling another shuffle of wily Sir Alex Ferguson's well-stocked pack. A perfect fit it would seem.

Possible replacements: Stephan El Shaarawy, Edin Dzeko, Emmanuel Adebayor. (Falcao and Robert Lewandowski can wait until the summer).

ESPN Conversations