A lot of people around Real Madrid were left trembling when the club announced that Sergio Ramos would undergo surgery.
Usually, when the captain is absent, Los Blancos struggle. The precedent was there – though not forgetting the win against Inter without him – and the signs were bad.
Ramos missed out as Real Madrid lost to Shakhtar Donetsk, and also against Alcoyano.
Other examples have come in the losses against Manchester City, Ajax, CSKA Moscow, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus in the past.
But Zinedine Zidane and his team have been able to live without their captain this time. Real Madrid have only lost once in their last five LaLiga Santander games, which came against Levante in January.
On that occasion, though, they played almost the entire game with 10 men after Eder Militao’s early red card. Since then, they’ve won five in a row in all competitions and kept clean sheets against Getafe, Valencia, Real Valladolid and Atalanta, only conceding in the 2-1 win over Huesca.
Real Madrid haven’t conceded in four games, which speaks volumes about how well they’re coping without their captain.
Zidane always discusses the whole team’s effort regarding defending, but there’s no doubt that Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez have stepped up more than anyone else.
The Frenchman is the most important defender in Ramos’ absence, and he has been impressive this season, putting his nightmare against Manchester City last term behind him.
He has stepped up, even wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of Ramos, Marcelo and Karim Benzema.
Varane has assumed leadership this season, as shown by the fact that Zidane has used him more than any other player.
Nacho is the other player who looks reborn lately. He has always delivered when Real Madrid have needed him to, irrespective of how long he had been sitting waiting on the bench for an opportunity. His form has seen him overtake Militao in the pecking order.
Finally, Thibaut Courtois’ importance cannot be overlooked. He consistently makes important saves, helping Los Blancos to stay competitive without their captain and other important players.