With the current squad, without a new speech, new approach of play and younger players in the middle, Real Madrid is likely to get out from this new season without a major title. All depend on the coach Carlo Ancelotti’s leadership, which passes by the sending to the bench one or more out of the three usual midfielders, Casemiro, Kroos and Modric. The availability of Hazard and the state of form of Gareth Bale would offer better solution in attack.
Since June Carlo Ancelotti has returned to Real Madrid as the new manager, thus succeeding Zinedine Zidane who resigned one year prior to the end of his contract. Certainly, the former AC Milan midfielder does not land in an unknow ground for having been there two years 2013-15 with one La Liga title won.
This time however the challenge is bigger, because players who have the pillars of the team have aged, and the new generation has failed so far to take over. Another disadvantage for Ancelotti is that he cannot rely on two very important elements who helped him during his first time who are justly Zinedine Zidane, his assistant, and Cristiano Ronald, the team best scorer over the last decade.
Indeed, Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo were both altogether involved in 25 out of 28 trophies Real Madrid won over the last 20 years either as players (both) and coach (Zidane). They only missed the 2000-01, 2006-07 and 2007-08 La Liga titles. The Frenchman helped Madrid in winning its last five Champions League, as a player in 2001-02, as Ancelotti’s assistant in 2013-14 and as a lead coach between 2015-2018.
Cristiano Ronaldo was part of four of these five Champions League campaigns and of the only three La Liga championships Real Madrid have collected over the last decade. Globally, he contributed to seventeen trophies in nine years, sixteen of them in association with Zinedine Zidane.
New approach without Zidane or Ronaldo
To summarize, the only titles Real Madrid won during the last 20 years without Zidane on the playground, or on the bench were La Liga championship 2000, 2007, 2008 and 2012 (although he was coaching Real Madrid B that year). And the reason is that he was elsewhere. The 2020 La Liga championship is the only one Cristiano Ronaldo did not participate in since 2010. Such numbers mean a lot as those two professionals are not in the boat anymore, and their absence heighten the challenge to Carlo Ancelotti and Florentino Perez as the season is opening. The problem is that the current squad suggest questioning as it still depends on players within 30s and those youngsters who fail to take the lead on the pitch.
No doubt that Carlos Henrique Casemiro, Tony Kroos, Karim Benzema, and Luka Modric are soccer players any team would have to get in. They are champions with a lot of experience and have influence over the ground. As a proof, they are those who played the most during the 2020-21 season behind the goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (4590). Casemiro, Kroos, Benzema and Modric played respectively 3940-, 3194-, 3883- and 3721-minutes last year with Real Madrid. If the Meringue fought for the championship until the last game, they unfortunately did not get the expected contribution from the younger players such as Vinicius Junior, Rodrigo, Ascensio and others. For instance, Casemiro who is a defensive midfielder score as many goals as Ascensio (winger), one more than Vinicius (winger). Karim Benzema, Real Madrid’s best player since Cristiano Ronald departure in 2017, did the job as a forward, but he did much more. He also provided more assists (9) than anyone, but Casemiro, the second scorer (7) of the team.
Certainly, Real Madrid suffered of the injuries of Lucas Vasquez who, despite that, delivered 7 assists, et Ferland Mendy since both were in good shape when they had to stop. Since his recruitment for two years, Eden Hazard spent more time infirmary that on the pitch. Same thing with the defender and experienced captain Sergio Ramos who lost most of the season, because of several and long-time injuries. Ramos being left to PSG, the counts on Mendy and Vasquez as well as Bale who is back from loan at Tottenham. However, the Real Madrid team needs freshness both in the middle and the attack line. However, unless Florentino Perez got a better idea, Ancelotti should take the leading act of making some change such as sending Frederico Valverde and Martin Ødegaard to the field in a weekly basis.
Frederico Valverde and Martin Ødegaard to the rescue.
In fact, Frederico Valverde and Martin Ødegaard are excellent players who gained in experience and ability overs last years and can assume responsibilities on the pitch. If Valverde played an important role in the 2020 La Liga title, but he was victim of the coach’s choices last year. He currently deserves and can perform as one of the three midfielders. When it came to Ødegaard he came to complete a full season with Arsenal in Premier League (30 games) where he played both attacking midfielder, right winger, and left winger. Offensively, he offers of great alternative to Ancelotti in terms of dynamism and game intelligence. But it takes to have guts to sit either Casemiro or Kroos or Modric to integrate these two youngsters.
It is even more challenging for Ancelotti that his defense is leaning on new central defenders with Raphael Varane leaving for Manchester United. Eder Militao and David Alaba who are going to play together for the first time need a more go-ahead Meringue than what we saw last year. This requires quietude in the recovery zone, that of Casemiro-Kroos-Modrid among whom I advocate change. In this situation, Mendy (left lateral) and Carvajal (right lateral) would be more cautious and lend a hand in the axis, the threesome of the middle is too limited physically and technically to release the serenity that would lead to the La Liga crown.
Casemiro is the perfect example of technically unskilled, unable to contribute to the play progression unless through a long transverse, what he cannot do in every game. The recent vice-champion of South America is good head player, succeeds his duals as he often intercepts the ball from the opposing player. But with himself possessing the leather the play stagnates. He looks encumbered and rushes to pass it to the closest teammate.
Kroos appears more comfortable ball in feet and chooses among several solutions, such as playing long, combination and calling the ball breadthwise. But, as Casemiro, he is not a good conductor and dribbler, and both fail to ensure their team preponderance in attack. They are responsible of the slowness in the game and prevent the team from counterattacking when needed.
Modric is the most complete of the three, he covers more space, plays nearer the surface, makes more calls for the ball whether on the sides or in depth and shot to the goal. The Croatian can play in any position on the field, unlike Casemiro and Kroos. Despite his age, he is the one who seems more able to keep his place in front of the defense while mentoring the Valverde and Ødegaard.
With the current effective, even with Kylian Mbape signing, Real Madrid’s success in the next years depends on leading act from Carlo Anceloti. The coach is even more in the view of the Socios than Florentino Perez, visibly running out of ideas as we approach the opening match of the Spanish La Liga on August 13, 2021. Madrid plays Alavés the next day.