Real Madrid are going to be very busy in the summer of 2019.
Los Blancos have endured a torrid last couple of seasons in La Liga. Since winning the title in 2016/17 they finished 17 points behind winner’s Barcelona last term and are currently 15 points behind the Blaugrana, who look like Champions-elect, who are champions in all but name.
And as if it couldn’t get worse for Real Madrid’s fans, they’re six points behind city rivals Atletico and look set to finish behind their two fiercest foes for a second consecutive season.
The 2017/18 Champions League win was a fluke that masked an inexorable decline for a side that peaked in Cardiff and even the return of Zinedine Zidane alone cannot bring about the change required.
What makes this so exciting is that Real Madrid, being Real Madrid, are linked with just about everyone.
There’s no concept or clear plan of action; every single big name is being linked to the Bernabeu even if a move makes little sense (e.g. look at all the left-wingers being linked even though Madrid’s only bright spark right now is a left-winger).
Still, with all those options, we’ve had a look and come up with four possible ways Los Blancos could line up come the end of the year using only players that have been linked to Real Madrid in the recent past.
Normally you’d tell a side to dream big, but Real Madrid don’t do anything else. Every single XI here is a swing for the fences but this particular side is a hypercapitalist return to the absurd summer of 2009 when Florentino Perez sanctioned over €250m to be spent in one summer, twice breaking the world transfer record (first on Kaka, then on Cristiano Ronaldo).
This team sees similar madcap spending. Starting in goal, Zidane has already begun to place trust back into his old faithful, Keylor Navas. A trend that is likely to continue into next season.
In defence, the Brazilian Eder Militao is already on his way at great expense but Zidane is likely to stick with the centre-back pairing that has served him so well over the years.
Dani Carvajal is too good to get rid of at right-back so he stays there; and at left-back, Marcelo will be reinstated as first choice and Zidane’s blue-eyed boy.
In midfield, Tanguy Ndombele joins Casemiro as the defensive anchors for the side but can also provide plenty of energy and industry further forward. Two defensive shields doing the dirty work for the big names that lie ahead. Paul Pogba has shot plenty of admiring glances toward the Bernabeu recently and despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s insistence on keeping him, Man Utd may be powerless to stop a move. Mercurial, maverick and mysterious, Pogba can provide the spark that has been missing in the Real Madrid midfield this season.
Vinicius has earned the love of the Bernabeu faithful and is likely to start in a total new-look forward line that contains Eintracht Frankfurt goal-machine Luka Jovic and Eden Hazard. The Chelsea talisman has been a long-time target of Zidane’s and with the colossal ego of Cristiano Ronaldo long gone, this dream could finally become a reality.
The Spurs Project
In another dimension, Zidane never returns to the Bernabeu and Mauricio Pochettino takes the reigns. It hasn’t happened in this reality, but that shouldn’t stop the 13-time European champions targetting Spurs’ best talent.
Once again, Navas is in goal and the back four would see Militao’s younger legs replace Ramos. Obviously, Zidane would rotate the likes of Marcelo and Carvajal with Reguilon and Nacho, but the starters would be clear.
Zidane has been a huge fan of the midfield diamond in the past and with Casemiro anchoring, things start to get really fun.
Christian Eriksen is the major midfield signing and essentially replaces the departed Toni Kroos. In a strange twist of fate, Spurs’ current star playmaker would partner their icon of a bygone era, lining up alongside Luka Modric.
At the head of the diamond, fan favourite Isco is spared from being sold and is thrust into the side. The Spaniard’s beguiling talent has had him on the verge of brilliance for years and this side, he could truly begin to flourish. In attack, Vinicius is the speed, but his partner, and Madrid’s big signing in this XI, is Harry Kane.
The England captain is a world-class striker with loads of big match ability and he already looks good in white. He’d command a world record fee (like Neymar) but he’d be worth it.
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El Niños del Madrid
Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy has produced an incredible volume of world-class talent over the years, with Pep Guardiola, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi but three of the names to come through the ranks.
And while that has largely been Barcelona’s ethos, Real Madrid’s modus operandi has been statement signings and throwing around the cash. But, unlikely as this may seem, there is still a chance Los Blancos could miss out on most of their prime targets. After all, the likes of Bayern Munich and Man Utd are set for big squad overhauls this summer, while Juventus will look to strengthen after another Champions League failure. The competition in the market is going to be fierce.
With that, despite Zidane’s lack of trust in them to this point, Madrid could turn to their kids to add new passion and vibrancy to the side.
Luca Zidane is currently third choice between the sticks, but with his father likely to offload Courtois in the summer, he will be bumped up and could start in this youthful XI. Young Spaniards Alvaro Odriozola, Jesus Vallejo and Sergio Reguilon will join Militao in quick, mobile and technically gifted back four.
The theme continues in midfield with Marcos Llorente usurping Casemiro as the anchor, while Dani Ceballos and 20-year-old Uruguayan Federico Valverde are the legs and craft ahead of him.
Of course, even if you can win stuff with kids, you still need some experience in the ranks, level heads to steady the ship in a storm. In this line-up, all of the experience is crammed into the front three.
Hazard, Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio have a combined 201 international caps between them, as well as a potentially wonderful mix of predatory instinct, mind-bending technique and lightening pace. They would be the poster boys and elder statesmen of a brave new era at the Bernabeu as Real Madrid controversially channel their inner Barcelona.
While Real Madrid may not need to move heaven and earth this summer, they simply want to. As we’ve said, throwing the chequebook around is what they do.
Of course, even with gargantuan summer spending, Navas will likely keep his place in goal, behind a projected back four of Carvajal, Militao, Ramos and Marcelo.
Valverde will come into a double pivot with the guiding hand of Casemiro never more than a few yards away. These two will be vital if what is a head of them is to work.
Playing as the side’s creative hub would once again be Hazard and none other than ex-Barcelona icon and current PSG talisman, Neymar. The move has been rumoured for some time now, while the Brazilian has recently expressed a desire to ‘wreak havoc’ alongside his Belgian counterpart.
“I would like to play with Hazard. He has a style similar to mine,” Neymar told Fox Sports.
“I think I could give it a try. We would cause havoc together!”
The possibilities here are endless but, of course, with all this ego and relentless attacking intent, you still need some selfless players to reign things in. Lucas Vazquez has never been one for hogging the limelight and his relentless work rate ensures someone will be there to both cover and press should the genius of Hazard and Neymar fail.
The same can be said of Benzema, although he will serve a dual purpose as the generous foil to the two superstars behind him, making runs off the ball to create space, holding it up to allow Hazard and Neymar to occupy dangerous positions around him.