As we approach a new season in La Liga the big-3 have been very active in the market in preparation for round 1. So far there have been no mega money signings, but a greater focus on squad depth in key areas. Whether these are good or unwise moves remains to be seen, but this editor is going to give you his take on the winners and losers of the Spanish transfer market and what we expect each of their key signings to bring, good or bad.
Real Madrid are coming off a season of two halves. Anyone who remotely follows the sport was left in a state of disbelief as the gentleman/mastermind Ancelotti was sack and replaced with Rafael Benitez last season. The team suffered, their superstars were unhappy with the pragmatic, inexpressive approach Rafa tried to implement. The 4-0 defeat to Barcelona summarized his time in charge and showcased his inability to stand up to the board and manage a dressing room filled with superstars and their egos.
They were 6 points off La Liga, and seemed unconvincingly leading up to the round-of-16 of the Champions League. Enter Zinedine Zidane, Madrid's golden midfielder who is undoubtedly Perez’s prodigal son. Madrid almost instantly rediscovered their confidence and along with the intelligent utilization of Casemiro (Real’s most important player last season), saw Los Galacticos capital claim the continent’s most coveted prize (their 11th, mind you). This season, the European Champions will have domestic success on the mind of the players and fans alike, as their attempts to usurp Barcelona have been unsuccessful since 2012. How have Madrid gone about doing so this summer? Will they continue their galactico tradition of splurging mega money on the game's biggest stars, or is Zidane trying to direct Real Madrid into identity of his vision?
A Lot of Madridistas were enraged to see Morata depart for Juventus 2 years ago, which was only exacerbated by said player scoring 2 goals as the biaconeri knocked Real Madrid out at the Semi Final stage of the UCL. During his time at Juventus, Morata has shown he is the man for the big occasion. A prolific goal scorer, not quite, or not yet, however you want to look at it, but no one can deny the potential he's shown in his clubs hardest game. Watch his performances against Madrid, Man City, Dortmund and Bayern Munich to name a few. Originally signed to bait the rest of Europe’s big spenders, but with Zidane being reported as a keen admirer of the player, he looks set to stay. Real Madrid have no real replacement for Benzema upfront and Morata seems to be the perfect player to fill his shoes; he knows the club, he's a Fabrica player, and he's got potential to grow.
Prediction: Expect him to still play second fiddle to Benzema, but push the Frenchman all the way; he could be a starter next season.
For those of you who have been following Asensio during his time at Espanyol, you should know Madrid have a player with enormous potential on their hands. Very similar to Isco, but with a lot more pace, Asensio seems like an extremely dangerous player with loads of confidence despite his young age. He registered four goals and ten assists last year, contributing directly to almost 50% of his team's goals in a very average campaign for the Catalan club. The biggest issue for Asensio to reach his potential heights are the players he is competing with for a place in Madrid's XI. So far, players like Isco and James Rodriguez (one of them however looks set to vacate) have struggled to break into Madrid's starting XI, with the BBC being labeled as untouchable and Luka Modric and Toni Kroos being that cut above the previous two for dictating Madrid’s tempo. However, last week's super cup performance against Sevilla will give Madrid great confidence in Asensio’s ability to develop into a long term future starter. Perez would have undoubtedly loved that left footed strike into the corner, as did I.
Prediction: Fill the gap for the clubs more senior players when inevitable injuries take place, and when Zidane wishes to rotate his squad before big games. Won't play a large role, but will be given moments to shine.
Who they need to sell:
Madrid's squad currently has a good balance of players, with clear contrast between Zidane's starting XI and all those fighting for a place seems to be well established amongst the squad. Players like Kovacic, Asensio, Morata and Lucas Vasquez all know they won't be guaranteed monumental match time but will still play a role. Defensively, with only one backup per position, most of Madrid's defenders will see considerable game time this season. It's the two midfield dynamos Isco and James Rodriguez that do not fit in the current system and each won’t be satisfied to spend another year on Madrid's bench. It's a hard decision to choose which of the two should stay or go.
Isco - labelled by many as the natural heir to Iniesta. Isco is blessed with extremely close control, excellent dribbling technique, and the eye for a goal. Of the two (himself and James), he is better suited to a midfield spot in the 4-3-3. In addition, he is a fan favorite and is Spanish, something Madrid need to be wary of before thinking of spending more money on non-EU players in future following Brexit. However, Isco’s small build and habit of overplaying has often shifted away from Madrid's more direct approach, with his game better suited to possession-style football (Guardiola are you listening?).
James - after lighting up the World Cup in 2014, James’ mega money move from Monaco was met with a lot of criticism notably as favourite, Angel Di Maria was offloaded to Manchester to facilitate the move. However, during his first season James developed into a key cog in Ancelotti's machine, racking up an impressive number of goals/assists. Unfortunately, after picking up an injury during Benitez's short-lived reign, the Colombian superstar has so far failed to break into Zidane's plans, confirmed by his omission from the starting XI against Sevilla. James is far more direct than Isco and a far better goal scorer, however that isn’t necessarily what Madrid need from their midfielders when they have the BBC spearheading the attack.
I believe James Rodriguez is a great player playing for the wrong team in the wrong shape. He isn't a winger, a striker or a central midfielder – he is a second striker, a classic number 10. Seeing as Madrid do not utilise such a role, his best attributes are stiffled. Although this editor feels Madrid could use James next year as Ronaldo’s age continues to catch up with him, Zidane's lack of trust in him and current shape suggests that they would get more from Isco than Rodriguez.
Who they need to sign:
The diverse fullback turned winger, turned midfielder, turned fullback again – he is truly a jack-of-all-trades. Despite Marcelos form, he is aging and without any physical presence in midfield Casemiro aside, Alaba could solve a lot of potential problems for the capital club. The transfer fee would be large, as would his wages. Still, he'd be an excellent signing and would weaken a direct European rival in Bayern Munich.