The new season is upon us once again – where has this summer gone to? Los Blancos take on Sporting Gijon at the weekend as they begin their quest to wrestle the title back from Barcelona.
It’s been a pretty busy summer so far at the Santiago Bernabeu. We have a new boss for starters with Rafa Benitez replacing Carlo Ancelotti. We’ve also said goodbye to loyal servant Iker Casillas who ended a 25-year career with the club when he signed for Porto.
Real have been busy in the transfer market – Danilo, Lucas Vasquez, Kiko Casilla, Mateo Kovacic have all been added while Casemiro and Denis Cheyshev have returned from their loan spells. With the David de Gea saga seemingly changing on a daily basis and rumours of bids to strengthen the strike force, don’t be surprised if more arrivals happen.
But let’s have a look and assess the state of the squad as we start the new season.
This is the first year in 16 that the first team squad won’t have Iker Casillas on the books. His departure was widely seen as the club clearing the way to sign David de Gea. But Manchester United’s refusal to sell means Real have hit somewhat of a snag.
The keeper is always under scrutiny at the Santiago Bernabeu and Keylor Navas and Kiko Casilla will need to adjust quickly. Navas look nervy at times when he played last season. He’s been the number one in the pre-season under Benitez and has looked more assured. Casilla will likely play understudy. The former Los Blancos youth player returned from Espanyol and while he has bags of potential he is probably short of being capable of filling Casillas’ gloves at the moment.
Navas should start as the number one but the situation is an odd one – if Real manage to complete the de Gea deal by the end of the transfer window, the Costa Rican will likely leave and Casilla stay as understudy.
Real’s backline has been fairly settled for a number of years now. Marcelo, new captain Sergio Ramos and Pepe are familiar face and have 700 appearance between them for the club. Raphael Varane should see more and more action in the first team this season as Pepe enters the autumn of his career. Nacho Fernandez provides excellent cover at centre back too and seems happy enough with his role in the squad knowing that he will largely be confined to the Copa de Rey for his football. Fabio Coentro, if is stays, will provide cover at left back.
The right back slot is the most interesting. Daniel Carvajal has made it his own over the past 18 months and has impressed with his rampaging runs forward. He was caught out defensively a few times in big games last season and the arrival of Danilo will provide him with serious competition. Los Blancos surely won’t have splashed out 31 million euros to put him on the bench?!
Finally, Alvaro Arbeloa is more motivator than anything else these days. The vastly experienced defender can provide cover at right back and centre back if needed though.
Real have an array of talent packed in midfield but perhaps one weakness was the lack of an enforcer last season since Xabi Alonso was sold. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Isco and James Rodriguez are all world class players capable of unlocking any defence with their precise passing and trickery. Mateo Kovacic has just arrived from Inter Milan, and will add to that talent in midfield. Add to those they younger attacking midfielders such as Lucas Vasquez and Denis Cheryshev and Real are strong going forward.
The issue still lies on the defensive side of things. Lucas Silva is set to leave the club on loan, while Asier Illarramendi is a bit of an enigma. Signed as the natural heir to Xabi Alonso, it hasn’t quite worked out for him at the club even though he’s shown in patches what he is capable of. With Liverpool hovering, don’t be surprised to see him leave. That leaves Casemiro – the Brazilian who returned from Porto this summer. He obviously gained valuable first team football, but is he ready for Real? I think Benitez will get his chequebook out again.
Another fairly settled situation for the club is the forward line. Cristiano Ronaldo had his best season last year in terms of goals – 61 for his club. He will be joined again by Gareth Bale. The Welshman endured a tough season last time out – sometimes the criticism was harsh and undeserved. But the 25-year-old will need to start the season in good form to stop the criticism growing. We all know what he is capable of – a bit more of his first season form and he’ll be fine.
Karim Benzema is the out and out striker in the squad and despite some criticism from fans, works hard for the team by holding the ball up well. He’s also well capable of scoring 25 goals a season. Despite interest from Arsenal, I think the Frenchman will stay and prove his worth to the team once more.
Jese Rodriguez is the back up option, but Real need more. Javier Hernandez was also on the books last season and Benitez will need to sign another striker before the end of the window.