It feels like yesterday that Real Madrid were on top of the world.
In 2017, Zinedine Zidane’s “black magic” was in full effect – the Champions of Europe had a squad that was either in its prime or getting there shortly – the coach was vibrant, full of new ideas and innovations and the world was at their feet.
That summer, after clinching the Champions League and thrashing Barcelona in the Spanish Supercup, Los Blancos looked unstoppable. Like the Community Shield in England, it’s a trophy some don’t really regard as a major honour per se. But it matters to the ones who win it and their fans as well, especially if it’s Manchester City beating Liverpool or, in this case, Real Madrid beating Barcelona.
But as much as everyone thought it was the beginning of something rather spectacular, and to quite a large extent it truly was, but not in the way anyone expected. Instead of crushing their opposition, the Spanish capital outfit happened to slip and go face-first into the gutters.
Fast forward to 2019. The transfer window is in full effect and has already closed in England and Real are back to square one: Zidane is in charge, the club is in disarray and the mouth is full of the same mud they’ve been tasting since 2017. It’s quite the sight for everyone involved and Florentino Perez, try as he might, just can’t seem to figure out a solution.
The transfer market is definitely his ticket out, the rope that just might pull him out the gutters and bring them back to life. But even after a series of promising transfer activity, there is still a feeling in the air that it somehow isn’t enough. But why is that?
Let’s quickly take a look at their five most valuable incoming transfers this summer so far, according to Transfermarkt.
The first thing that we notice here is that Perez is trying to increase squad depth, which is completely fine and exactly what every top team in Europe should do if they want to compete with the best. That much we can agree on. But squad depth, although essential to have, is unfortunately not the solution Madrid are looking for.
What they have on their hands is an ageing core and that issue simply hasn’t been addressed this summer. How many of these players will actually improve Real Madrid’s starting XI? The answer to that question: one. Obviously, that man is Eden Hazard.
The Belgian arrives as a due replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo but you’re still going from 40+ goals per season to 20+ at best. Sure, he offers assists as well and his quality is not in question here. He’s arguably the only player that automatically slots into the team and makes it better.
But even Hazard looks more like a “flex buy”, a Galactico to please the fans and silence the riot, and not so much a signing born out of necessity. Sure, Madrid have lacked a prolific goal scorer ever since Ronaldo moved to Juventus. That much is visible from their extreme decline from 94 goals in 2017/18 to 63 in 2018/19.
And while that may be true, was it really necessary to buy a wide player when Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Takefusa Kubo are all players who can play that role and still be effective?
Hazard will inevitably improve the team but there’s only so much he can do without improvements to other problem areas as well.
And there will be problems and we can see that based on Madrid’s most used 11 in the last couple of years. If we take a look and compare the 2018/19 lineup to the 2017/18 one and even the one before that, there are minimal changes made, which tells us a lot about the core of the team.
The same old players feature week in, week out and while that may have worked when they were peaking, it’s hardly the case now that they’re all quickly approaching their 30s or even stepping over them. One quick glance to one of Real Madrid’s pre-season games can also tell us quite a lot about Zidane’s preferences.
Notice the number of the familiar faces? Again, the only newcomers are Hazard and Militao but can the latter really usurp one of Varane or Ramos? Most likely not since those two are among the most valuable defenders at the club. So the chances of Zidane fielding the same old squad again are quite high, except Hazard, really.
And what did that get the team in the last couple of years? Not trophies, that’s for sure. They ended up third in La Liga behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, were eliminated by Ajax in the last 16 of the Champions League and reached the semi-final of Copa del Rey. Far from satisfactory given their stratospheric expectations.
There’ still time, however, for them to go into the market and strengthen the squad with players that actually might make their best 11 better than it is now.
Currently, it seems like they’ve only added more people to the bench.
Of course, who’s to say that some of those signings won’t win over their places in the gala lineup? That can happen, sure, but is Zidane ready to bring something new to this team that, judging by all of the above, is in a serious need of a revamp?
After all, doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results is hardly the right thing to do.