9 Summer Transfers to Give Zinedine Zidane a More Balanced Real Madrid Squad
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Little more than a year into Zinedine Zidane‘s top-flight managerial career, it’s fair to say the Frenchman has done pretty well. The Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup have all been won and his Real Madrid side sit top of the table, with La Liga’s trophy firmly in their sights for this season.
Improvement in football is a constant process, though, and there are areas in which the boss will have hoped to see upward trends in terms of performances, and parts of the squad that still need addressing.
Here, we identify nine summer transfers Real Madrid need once their FIFA-imposed ban comes to an end to give Zidane a far more balanced squad overall and options aplenty to mount a challenge on several trophies again next term.
Out: Fabio Coentrao and Pepe
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There’s a case for Real Madrid to offload back-up right-back Danilo, who has been error-prone since his arrival at the club in July 2015. Even when he does play well, things still don’t seem to go quite right for him, and that reputation is hard to shake.
That said, there will already be two departures from the back line, which might be more than enough to deal with considering the finding of replacements, their integrating into the squad and expenditure elsewhere—not to mention the likelihood that Real would take a financial hit on their €31.5 million outlay for the 25-year-old Brazilian.
On the opposite side, there’s no question: Fabio Coentrao was a great talent, but he has failed to rediscover form and fitness since his loan spell at AS Monaco came to a premature end.
The 28-year-old hasn’t contributed this season, even when first choice Marcelo has been unavailable. A departure from the Santiago Bernabeu is inevitable and necessary for both club and player this summer.
Elsewhere, Pepe has already agreed a move to the Chinese Super League, per Marca, leaving a hole in the centre of defence. The 33-year-old hasn’t been a regular due to injury this term, but he was Real’s best centre-back last year.
Out: One Attacking Midfielder and Lucas Silva
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Let’s get the easy decision out of the way first: It simply hasn’t happened for Lucas Silva since he signed for Real Madrid in January 2015, and—fitness permitting—he should be gone from the Santiago Bernabeu by summer at the latest.
A struggle to establish himself in the team, a failed loan spell in Ligue 1 and the collapse of a short-term move to Sporting CP in the summer due to heart irregularities means the Brazilian has had a terrible time overall since arriving in Europe.
He’s back in training but unlikely to impact whatsoever at Real Madrid.
Elsewhere, the juggling act in midfield goes on for Zidane. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro are his first-choice three in the centre of the park, while Mateo Kovacic is deserving of being in the side as much as any of the trio.
That makes up four central options, and an additional couple of attacking players who can also play in central midfield is ideal for squad rotation and for tactical alterations—but Real have too many.
Isco and James Rodriguez have been in a two-year battle for game time, and now Marco Asensio has also entered the equation. There simply isn’t room for all of them—there never has been—and now someone has to make way to allow others to flourish.
In terms of game time, James has yet to hit the 1,000-minute mark this season, while the other two are just ahead, closing in on 1,200.
It’s obvious Asensio is the future of the team, though to what extent is yet to become clear, so it’s still one from Isco and James who must make way—or potentially both.
Out: Karim Benzema or Alvaro Morata?
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Karim Benzema remains Zidane’s first-choice striker, but more and more people are questioning whether that should be the case.
Worryingly for Real Madrid, that includes Alvaro Morata, who wants to leave the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer, according to Cadena Ser’s programme El Larguero (via Football Espana).
The numbers make the case for the Spaniard over the Frenchman—a goal every 117 minutes for Morata, every 146 minutes for Benzema.
The No. 9 has been jeered by the crowd on more than one occasion this season and his link play, selfless movement and sure touch in the penalty box have deserted him at times, all big aspects of his performance in his better campaigns.
As B/R’s Tim Collins noted, Benzema has always had the traits needed to be one of the world’s top forwards, yet somehow he has always fallen just short. He hasn’t even come close to the required standard this year.
It’s no surprise Morata feels he deserves more time in the team, and the suspicion has to be that he’d be a better reference point and a better foil for Cristiano Ronaldo at this moment. Both don’t play together, and neither wants to be a sub. It’s inevitable that a parting of the ways will occur, but who will Zidane want to keep? Who should he want to keep?
In: Two New Faces for the Defence
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Incoming deals help flesh out the squad and bring balance, but sometimes you simply need a like-for-like to freshen up the team, lower the average age or bring a different tactical approach.
To replace Pepe at centre-back, there are options all over the world, depending on whether Real go for internal promotion—as discussed here—a cut-price deal for a squad player, or go big on a new huge name as a partner for Sergio Ramos. Either way, additions are a must.
Jesus Vallejo, 20, and Marcos Llorente, 22, are the two players out on loan who Real will be considering bringing back into the fold. Given their form and progression, perhaps the edge this summer lies with the latter thanks to his age and versatility.
At left-back, a reliable alternative to Marcelo is a must. For at least two seasons, it has been a makeshift list of unsuited, shoe-horned misfits who have filled the role on the occasions the Brazilian has been sidelined. Denis Cheryshev, Danilo and now Nacho—who has excelled but is more suited to centre-back—have all stepped up.
Gael Clichy, Sead Kolasinac and Benoit Tremoulinas make up just three of the names who are out of contract and available on free transfers this summer, and there are other good-value options out there, too.
It’s a position that has cost Madrid fluidity and reliability over the last couple of seasons, and it must be rectified.
In: One Controlling Midfield Option
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No question about the centre of midfield—Real need an alternative defensive presence, just as they did at the start of this season.
It could—and should—have been Diego Llorente, but another campaign of first-team football in La Liga will still stand him in good stead for his career.
Shining on loan at Malaga, the 23-year-old could be an easy name to boost the squad and back up Casemiro without demanding thousands of minutes on the pitch. However, even though he has impressed with spells at Rayo Vallecano and now in Andalucia, he’s not going to offer the same level of protection and assurance that the Brazilian does.
Is a gamble from elsewhere worthwhile, either a young prospect or an experienced head? Real aren’t going to have too many other enormous outlays in other areas of the pitch, so it’s possible.
In: One Winger or One Striker
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The attack needs just one new name, and the role that signing takes on depends on the role Cristiano Ronaldo fills.
Gareth Bale and Lucas Vazquez are excellent wide threats, Mariano could yet remain for the long term to offer depth for the striker position. Then there is Asensio who roams from the channels too—and Ronaldo himself.
Will the No. 7 be a central attacker? Will he continue from the left in a 4-3-3 but playing centrally whenever possible? He’s not a wide forward any more, that’s for sure, and if Zidane wants Ronaldo-plus-one in central areas, a change in formation might be on the cards.
If that’s the case, a wide player is needed to give more options and to back up Bale and Lucas. He should also bring more pace to the attack in general, given Ronaldo isn’t quite at the level he was in that regard and the other schemers from deep have more guile than acceleration.
This is the position which could see Real Madrid spend big, but it’s also critical for the balance of the squad. Overload in attack again and someone will be in Morata’s position, or James’, where they are disappointed at the lack of minutes and disillusioned when their impact in matches yields little personal reward.
Ronaldo holds the key, but it’s Zidane who must decide in advance what role he’ll play, and as a result where to upgrade elsewhere.