Just when Real Madrid seemed to be cruising in the first two months of the season, two injuries to key players have brought back the daunting memories of past seasons.
Casemiro is out for at least one month with a broken fibula, which leaves Zinedine Zidane without pure defensive midfielders. That means Toni Kroos, in great shape but hardly a ball recovery hound, will have to step in.
Additionally, Marcelo's sore calf will keep him out for two weeks. Real Madrid's coach will have to choose between using Danilo on the left or getting Fabio Coentrao back into competitive matches much earlier than expected. The Brazilian is right footed, and the Portuguese, who surprisingly has made this weekend's list for the match against Las Palmas, was expected to come back only in November, so neither option sounds enticing.
The midweek draw against Villarreal left Zidane frustrated, especially because of his team's slow start in the first 45 minutes: "We can't always win the match in the very last second. This draw is a consequence of our first half," he said in the post-match news conference.
Some of the defensive issues that had come up against Sporting Lisbon reappeared in the Villarreal match. The fact that not a single member of the BBC (Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo) looks close to their top form not only limits the team's offensive ability, but especially hinders their shape and intensity when defending. And if these issues were already obvious against Sporting, with an excellent defensive midfielder such as Casemiro on the team, they only became more blatant against Villarreal, without the Brazilian on the pitch.
Real Madrid have enough talent so that the side can win a few matches even with an unbalanced lineup. However, it is much harder for that to happen when Zidane's group faces talented, midfield rich opponents such as Sporting, Villarreal or their upcoming rivals Las Palmas.
On Saturday evening, Real Madrid will away play at the Estadio Insular in front of a crowd extremely happy with their team's record so far -- nine points in five matches for fifth in the table -- and even more with their home performances: two wins in two matches and six goals scored.
Coached by Quique Setien, a former Racing Santander player who oozed class, Las Palmas seem keen on joining the handful of La Liga teams which play with flair. It's extremely interesting to hear Setien, a chess enthusiast originally from the Northern city of Santander, speak about how much he's enjoying his time so far away from his hometown. He's fascinated by how kids that aren't even teenagers play on the street, with their heads up and looking for good passes, rather than the headless chickens routine more common at those ages.
Setien has his own worries. Pedro Bigas, who has started every match in the centre of the defence this season, left the Anoeta pitch limping after their defeat against Real Sociedad, and the options off the bench are not half as solid as him. Kevin Prince Boateng was sent off, so he won't be able to play either. However, Las Palmas has a more than consistent range of options to play in offensive positions, and his absence can be well covered.
The Canarios are indeed entertaining with the ball. Jonathan Vieira, Pedro Tanausu "Tana", Momo and Roque Mesa can generate chances out of nowhere, while forwards Marco Livaja and Nabil El Zhar have already shown they can drive solid defences crazy.
With Las Palmas expecting to try to exact revenge on Real Madrid for last season's last-minute defeat, Casemiro's absence becomes more concerning for this trip to the Canary Islands. Given the BBC's poor shape and judging by Real Madrid's last training session on Friday, it seems like Zidane will bring Alvaro Morata in to rest Benzema, probably starting a midfield line with Luka Modric, Kroos and Mateo Kovacic.
It remains to be seen whether that trio will have enough fuel to deal with Setien's well-built and entertaining Las Palmas team.