This looks set to be a summer of significant upheaval at Real Madrid. A number of senior players are expected to move on, while big money will be spent on improving a team who have failed to perform in either domestic or European competition this season.
In La Liga, they finished third, significantly shy of champions Barcelona, and again behind cross-city rivals Atlético Madrid. Their final points tally of 68 was their lowest in 16 years. And after three consecutive Champions League triumphs, Madrid’s campaign ended prior to the final four for the first time since 2010 when Ajax dumped them out in the round of 16 with a crushing 4-1 victory at the Bernabeu.
None of that was particularly surprising. Zinedine Zidane’s decision to leave after last season’s Champions League final win over Liverpool was, in part, recognition of the fact that some of the squad’s experienced names were on the wane, and that a rebuilding process would be required; one that it seems Florentino Perez was not, at that time, willing to commit to. Point proven following the failures of Julen Lopetegui and interim coach Santiago Solari, Zidane returned in March with a mandate to shape the squad to his liking.
Gareth Bale will almost certainly depart, even if it has to be on loan, as will goalkeeper Keylor Navas, the returning James Rodriguez, and maybe Isco, Marcelo and others. Space will be made for a new set of stars, the average age of the squad will decrease, and Madrid will hope to establish a core group who can lead them forward into the coming years.
While it is true that certain starting positions need refreshing, Madrid actually have plenty of viable young squad members. They have brought in or promoted from their youth teams a good number of young players over the last few years: Jesús Vallejo, Achraf Hakimi, Álvaro Odriozola, Theo Hernández, Sergio Reguilón, Federico Valverde, Marcos Llorente, Dani Ceballos, Brahim Díaz, Marco Asensio, Borja Mayoral, Vincíus Junior, Rodrygo. It’s just that none of them who currently form part of the squad are receiving significant game time. Asensio is the only player aged 25 or under to have seen more than 1,400 minutes of league action this season.
Zidane appears to have certain trust issues with the younger players, but there is enough quality and sufficient numbers in that group to provide good cover across the pitch without a complete overhaul of the squad. High-quality reinforcements in key areas should be enough to again make Madrid genuine challengers both domestically and in Europe.
With Cristiano Ronaldo leaving last summer, it was up to Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, and Karim Benzema to carry the load. Only one of those truly stepped up.
Benzema has had the season of his life, back inside the six yard box and back to scoring goals. He’s got over 20 for the first time in eight seasons and looks like, once again, one of the best centre forwards in Europe.
One of the very few Real Madrid stars to come out with any credit this season.
Zidane is aware that the squad needs an almost wholesale overhaul and will play a major part in the recruitment process this summer.
One of the main tenants of his agreeing to come back to Santiago Bernabeu was that he would have a major influence on signings, so we can only really judge his second spell by this time next year.