Life as a Real Madrid midfielder is not easy. While you might be surrounded by quality, and often in control of matches, seeing plenty of the ball, just getting on the pitch is the hard part.
Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Aurelien Tchouameni appear to have established themselves as the first choice trio under Carlo Ancelotti this season. In their absence, Fede Valverde is most likely to drop back into the team, while Eduardo Camavinga is the designated impact substitute.
It has left Dani Ceballos somewhat on the outside looking in. The 26-year-old former Arsenal midfielder has made 11 appearances, but those add up to just 209 minutes together, an average of just 19 minutes per appearance.
Ceballos was linked with an exit in the summer, but remained at the Santiago Bernabeu, in part based on assurances that he would have more opportunities from Carlo Ancelotti.
So far that has not been the case, but that has in part come down to injury. Ceballos missed the entire month of October and early November with a thigh problem.
That further clouds what was likely to be a tricky decision for Real Madrid and Ceballos anyway. Out of contract next summer, Real Madrid must decide whether they want to retain Ceballos and he must work out whether he can have sufficient opportunities in Madrid.
Last season he was also used sparingly, but did have an impact in the latter half of the season. Providing a valuable alternative to the likes of Camavinga, who would speed the game up, Ceballos was solid and could control the tempo far better.
Ancelotti has spoken highly of him in the past, explaining that he is the closest midfielder they have to Luka Modric in the squad. There is no doubt that Ancelotti rates Ceballos, but Modric continues to play the vast majority of minutes.
Should Real Madrid intend on recruiting a long-term replacement for Modric, as could be the case with Jude Bellingham, it may spell the end of Ceballos’ Madrid career.
He has been consistently linked with his first team, Real Betis, should he arrive on a free. Los Verdiblancos were struggling to register players last summer and so taking on a salary of his size was out of the question. Should they manage to create room in their budget, perhaps through the sale of William Carvalho according to Fichajes.net, Ceballos would likely have a landing spot.
Ceballos is a relatively cheap option for Los Blancos to fill out their squad with a quality option coming into the prime years of his career. While naturally the stars attract all of the attention, the likes of Lucas Vazquez and Nacho Fernandez have been key to Real Madrid’s success over the last decade, filling in expertly when asked to do so.
With no news yet of contract talks, it seems as if Real Madrid may be strategizing their moves ahead of the next summer’s window. Despite his performances, Real Madrid will likely look for a replacement for the 37-year-old Modric sooner rather than later. Their decision on when they do so could be the decisive factor in Ceballos’ future too.