Los Blancos closed out last season by lifting their 11th Champions League title against cross-town rivals, Atletico Madrid. They barely missed out on the league title to arch-rivals, Barcelona- finishing a point behind them- and was laughably thrown out of the Copa del Rey for fielding a suspended player – Denis Cheryshev – in the round of 32 against Cadiz.
The team for the most part last season was solid with mostly Benitez making bad decisions with personnel in the first half of the season. However, Zidane came in and made some changes, which resulted in better performances that culminated in a piece of silverware. Nonetheless, there are some key areas the team needs reinforcement to be able to compete in all five competitions (European Super Cup, La Liga, Copa del Rey, Club World Cup and Champions League) this season without being too fatigued, as well as when injuries hit there will be sufficient cover.
One of those positions is in defence. The team desperately needs one [or two] new central defender(s). Pepe should no longer be an option. While he is still a relatively decent defender, who is commanding in the air and still has some pace, his theatrics are becoming preposterous and are essentially against the values of Real Madrid. Additionally, he is at times prone to mistakes and has a hot head, which ultimately leads to more blunders. There were several times, for example, in the Champions league final, where had there been a “Pepe rule” in football, he would have been sent off, thus costing his team the title. Nacho, while a decent enough player, lacks consistency and sometimes makes clumsy challenges. Thus, Ramos and Varane (despite an up-and-down season) should be the go-to central pairing with two new recruits as back up. Players who would fit the bill are:
- Aymeric Larporte- Athletic Bilbao: Laporte is Varane’s comrade and defensive partner in the French national team. He is a strong defender, who’s good in the air and can put in a great goal-denying tackle. He’s intelligent and reads the game well. He is sometimes weak in possession and could improve that side of his game. Laporte has however, recently signed an extension to his contract, which signals he’s probably going to stay for at least another season but surely a substantial bid from Madrid would probably force Bilbao into selling.
- Jonathan Tah- Bayer Leverkusen: Though still relatively young, Tah has displayed qualities of an experienced defender atypical to players his age, playing in the same position. He was a strong, robust and energetic presence in Leverkusen’s defence last season. Tah reads the game brilliantly which allows him to intercept the ball well and standing at 6 ft 3 makes him incredibly strong in aerial duels. He does, however need to work on his passing, as last season he had a meagre 79% pass success rate.
- Mustafi- Valencia CF: The young German had a strong season for los Che last season and played an integral role in Germany’s Euro 2016 opener against Ukraine. He is also versatile and can play as a right back. He is a fairly strong tackler, though at times overzealous, thus leading to unnecessary fouls. He is also good in the air.
- Marquinhos- PSG: The young Brazilian central defender, who is equally comfortable playing as a right back, is quick, strong in possession and can pick out a lovely pass. Despite standing 6 feet tall, he does have problems in aerial duels, which could pose a problem against teams that like playing down the wings.
In the centre of midfield Real Madrid needs a player who can not only complement Toni Kroos and Modric but also alleviate some of the defensive duties they have to do. Casemiro does exceptionally well in that position but in the interest of not over exhausting him an equally capable backup should be signed. The likes of Pogba and Kante have been thrown around. However, los Blancos have ruled out a move for Pogba as his asking price of €100+ million is far too exorbitant and frankly, he isn’t worth it. Kante on the other hand, had an impeccable season for Leicester and would come at a cheaper price than his country man at around ₤30 million. However, Chelsea has confirmed they have signed the French man, which leaves the following players:
- Grzegorz Krychowiak – Sevilla: The Polish player had an impressive tournament for Poland at the European Championship and is probably the most perfect candidate for the position. He is used to La Liga and wouldn’t need any time settling. He is powerful in the air, always ready to throw himself in front of a shot, very good at reading the game and intercepting opponents’ passes and his tackling is solid. He is however at times error-prone and can improve his concentration.
- Johannes Geis – Schalke 04: The 22-year-old German wouldn’t be a bad choice either. He is a genius when it comes to dead ball situations- although he’d probably never be allowed to strike a ball on direct set-pieces if Ronaldo has any say. He can pick out a pass: short, long, diagonal, over the top, Geis can hit them all. He is strong in possession, tenacious in tackles and is usually highly concentrated in games, thus reducing his frequency in errors.
- Christoph Kramer – Bayer Leverkusen: He won the 2014 World Cup with Germany, where he turned in a brilliant performance in the final as Khedira’s replacement. He is an all-round very capable player in the duties of a defensive midfielder. His passing is secure, he’s not easily distracted and seldom makes a clumsy challenge. Additionally, Kramer stands at 6 ft 2 which makes him dominant in the air.
Real Madrid has so far failed to get anything going in the transfer window –Morata being the exception- and doesn’t appear like a team with a one year transfer ban looming. Defence and central [defensive] midfield are the two key areas the club lacks depth and needs to bolster before it’s too late, which could lead to panic buying and over-paying for players.