The March international break is often a time when clubs take decisive steps to formalise their plans for the summer transfer window — identifying their primary targets to push forward with negotiations while also clarifying internally which players they want to sell to make room.
This is certainly the case at Real Madrid at the moment, since it was confirmed that the Bernabeu outfit will be free to make moves having had their FIFA ban for breaking youth transfer regulations cut. While the upcoming elections scheduled for this summer (even if club president Florentino Perez is unlikely to face any realistic challengers) is also likely to be a factor.
Perez and his advisors have been moving forward with plans for potential signings — with priorities reportedly including a new goalkeeper, midfielder and left-back, with other positions including central midfield and attack. Here are some of the possibilities.
Goalkeeper: The current favourite to replace out-of-form Keylor Navas as Madrid’s first choice goalkeeper is Manchester United’s David De Gea, a long time target of Perez who infamously almost joined the Bernabeu outfit in summer 2015. If he can be considered such, the “back-up option” is Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois.
Left-back: Fabio Coentrao’s continuing fitness issues mean a new left-back is almost certain, although there is less consensus among Bernabeu insiders about a replacement. Liverpool’s Joe Gomez has been mentioned in some reports, but Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez, Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy or Valencia’s Jose Gaya are more realistic targets to act as back-up or even challenge Marcelo for a starting spot.
Centre-back: Veteran centre-back Pepe is expected to move on when his contract ends this summer, but the club may not sign a direct replacement as youngster Jesus Vallejo appears ready to take up a senior squad place following his excellent showings on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt this term.
Central midfield: Another emerging prospect likely to be retained at the Bernabeu in 2017-18 is Marcos Llorente, a holding midfielder who has been impressing this season on loan at Alaves, and who is seen by many as a long term certainty for the holding role in Madrid’s midfield.
Winger: A recent upturn in reports surrounding interest in Chelsea’s Eden Hazard suggests Madrid are keen to sign at least one big name attacker in the summer, with the drip feed of information shared with friendly reporters echoing past successful moves for then Premier League stars Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Hazard would not come cheap however, so some high profile names would have to be sold to balance the books. Isco’s future remains uncertain as he moves towards the final year of his contract, while the club would surely be delighted to move on James Rodriguez if they can get anything close to the €80 million the Colombian cost after World Cup 2014.
Attacking midfield: If both were to leave then Madrid might sign a more traditional midfielder who suits the club’s usual 4-3-3 formation. Monaco’s versatile Thomas Lemar has been increasingly mentioned in the local press, while Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti is a more difficult but very intriguing option who would be an ideal long-term replacement for Luka Modric, who is 32 later this year.
Striker: Another player unhappy with scarce playing time this season has been centre-forward Alvaro Morata, whose return to his boyhood club from Juventus last summer has not gone as planned. Morata packing his bags again, perhaps for Chelsea or Arsenal, would likely mean Madrid would need another centre-forward.
A number of names are apparently being considered without any real favourite having yet emerged. Paulo Dybala is a long-time target but the Juventus star apparently prefers to stay in Turin one more year to ensure he gets regular football ahead of the 2018 World Cup. Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is regularly linked with the Bernabeu, often by himself, but the Spanish club’s hierarchy do not seem keen.
Meanwhile, Sergio Aguero’s troubles at Manchester City have not gone unnoticed. Madrid tried very hard to sign the Argentine when he left Atletico for City back in 2011, however at 29 next June, his time has probably passed.
The emergence of Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe as the world’s next potential superstar has also unsurprisingly seen him mentioned in connection with Madrid, but at 18 he is not realistically ready to challenge the ‘BBC’ of Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo for a starting spot.
Backroom staff? Zidane’s position on the bench is looking relatively secure, although an April fixture list that includes Atletico and Barcelona in La Liga, and former coach Carlo Ancelotti returning to the Bernabeu with Bayern Munich in the Champions League, opens up the possibility for either satisfying success or embarrassment which could affect thinking at all levels.
The coming months could also see a likely exit for Perez’s long-term confidant and trusted negotiator Jose Angel Sanchez, which could complicate the situation. Sevilla sporting director Monchi is a reported target but it seems very unlikely that he would get the same freedom to buy and sell which has made him such a success at the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan.
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