Real Madrid can’t figure out how to win without Casemiro

Real Madrid have Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, among a slew of other terrific players. They can afford to miss a player or two, be it to injury or suspension. Except they can't afford to be without Casemiro, apparently.

Ever since Casemiro went down with a fractured fibula, Real Madrid have struggled. The team that had won 16 straight La Liga matches, tying the all-time record, promptly drew Villarreal, 1-1, at home once the Brazilian got hurt. They followed that up with a 2-2 draw at Las Palmas, looking a far cry from the dominant side that won their first five matches of the season across all competitions. And then on Tuesday they drew Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, again with a 2-2 scoreline.

That things turned as soon as Casemiro was hurt is not a coincidence. The Brazilian is the team's lone defensive midfielder. Not only does he shield the back line, but he provides the Merengues' slew of brilliant attackers to get forward without worry. Casemiro alone is Real Madrid's defense against the counterattack and able to help dictate the speed at which teams can attack and where they can attack. There's a reason why one of the first things Zinedine Zidane did when he took over as manager in the middle of last season was make Casemiro a fixture in the Real Madrid midfield.

In the four matches without him — the last three plus against Osasuna, when he was rested — Real Madrid have conceded seven times.

The difference between Real Madrid with Casemiro (0.5 goals allowed per game) and without Casemiro (1.75 goals allowed per game) is a defense that is, at least when it comes to goals allowed, 250 percent worse.

Obviously, we're working with small sample sizes here and these numbers are hardly definitive proof, but the eyes match what the numbers show. Real Madrid are very vulnerable on the counterattack, are much softer through the middle with teams showing no fear of running at the centerbacks, and no longer do teams get funneled to the wings while being slowed down, allowing Real Madrid to defend with numbers more often. On a team that is littered with tremendous attacking players, finding sturdy defensive play wherever possible is all the more vital and nobody was more important to the Merengues for that reason than Casemiro.

Since Zidane took over last season, Real Madrid have won 18 of 20 matches with Casemiro. But without the bulldozing Brazilian, Real Madrid have won just seven of 12.

If Casemiro has to miss any more matches for any reason, Real Madrid are back in trouble. They have cover at almost every position on the pitch, even for their most incredible players, but not for Casemiro. That's why they are struggling now and because they are under a transfer ban, they won't be able to sign another defensive midfielder in January or next summer. The dream of adding a Julian Weigl — who was magnificent for Dortmund against Real Madrid — or any other player is on hold as a result and they probably wish they hadn't let Marcos Llorente go on loan to Alaves because they could use him right now too.

Real Madrid can have all the stars they want, and they have plenty. But they need a defensive midfielder too, and in their case that means Casemiro. He's their only one, and they're limping along without him.