Paul Pogba is Zinedine Zidane’s obsession but deals for Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland may have to wait another year, says Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero.
Every club is eager for football to return but perhaps none more so than Real Madrid. It will have been a fraught five weeks for Zinedine Zidane, whose side headed into the shutdown off the back of four defeats in seven games.
Dumped out of the Copa del Rey at home by Real Sociedad and with one foot out of the Champions League following a 2-1 loss to Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu, the season has not gone according to plan.
So much was expected of this new Madrid side following a summer of heavy spending, with £275m forked out on players such as Eden Hazard, Ferland Mendy, Luka Jovic, Rodrygo and Eder Militao.
But with the side trailing Barcelona by two points with 11 La Liga games still to play, Zidane may well have used these dormant weeks contemplating ripping up his attempts at a reboot and starting all over again.
Sky Sports caught up with Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero to run the rule over the current squad and what could happen this summer…
“Thibaut Courtois will remain No 1. Zidane is happy with him and [club president] Florentino Perez loves him,” Montero told Sky Sports.
“The club’s general director Jose Angel Sanchez – Perez’s right-hand man – has been promoting a transfer policy that is not based on massive expenditure ever since the turn of the century. They are keen to bring in players and turn them into superstars where their values go up.”
Alphonse Areola was brought in by Zidane from Paris Saint-Germain on loan to provide competition for the Belgian, but having failed to oust him from the No 1 spot, neither the player or club will look to make this a permanent arrangement.
Zidane is well-stocked in this department, with the promising Ukrainian Andriy Lunin and the manager’s son, Luca, set to provide additional pressure on Courtois to perform next season.
Montero added: “Real Madrid now feel they can’t compete financially with the money from Manchester City and those clubs backed by Arab countries.
“Lunin didn’t play much at Leganes and Valladolid but they have confidence that he will be a very good goalkeeper in the future.”
Will Real find depth in defence from within?
Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, pictured above, will remain Zidane’s first-choice pairing in defence, while Militao is expected to stay and fight for his place, despite only making nine La Liga appearances since making his £43.5m move from Porto last summer.
He remains a distant third choice behind the established defensive pairing of Varane and Ramos and Tottenham have been linked with the Brazilian, but Marca reported this week that he has been reassured over his future.
“The situation can be compared to Varane when he first arrived,” Montero continued. “He arrived on Zidane’s recommendation in 2011. The feeling is that beyond Militao, Nacho is not going to stay as the fourth option. There’s a chance they will look to sign someone in this position.”
Dani Carvajal remains the first-choice right-back, but the performances of Achraf Hakimi during his two-year loan spell at Borussia Dortmund certainly have not gone unnoticed by Zidane.
The Moroccan has excelled with the Bundesliga club, who Diario AS report would be keen to turn into a permanent signing. The player could well turn out to be a useful bargaining chip further down the line when it comes to negotiations on striker Erling Haaland, pictured below.
“Real Madrid have two more players in this position,” Montero said. “One is Alvaro Odriozola, who has been on loan at Bayern Munich, but he is yet to show much confidence. It may be that next season he returns as a standby for Carvajal.
“Achraf has exploded at Dortmund, and Madrid may feel that it’s better to sell him due to his playing style. He’s got good market value so it’s a good moment to sell him. They could make money from that transfer as a result of his performances and look to spend it elsewhere.”
On the left, Marcelo has been a mainstay of the Madrid set-up for many years, but the 31-year-old – who is the club vice-captain – has lost the full backing of his supporters in a season that has indicated that his powers may be on the wane.
“He has the complete confidence of Zidane but Sergio Reguilon – who has been on loan at Sevilla – is expected to come back,” Montero said. “He’s another player who may be loaned out or sold. Zidane still thinks Marcelo can hold down the left-sided berth, but he also feels that at times Mendy is the better option.
“He was picked over Marcelo in the Champions League last-16 first leg against Manchester City and the feeling was he was going to also be picked in the second leg as he is more defensive-minded. The left-back is perhaps the only position where there’s not a clear first and second choice.”
Will Zidane look to bolster his midfield options?
Spanish paper AS claimed this week that Real Madrid are seeking a Casemiro ‘clone’ while Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe remain on the club’s radar, reports Marca.
Real Madrid are in need of extra mobility in midfield with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric both now in the 30s. Federico Valverde has emerged as a natural successor to Casemiro, and the eye-watering £448m release clause in the Uruguayan’s contract means a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu any time soon would require an unreachable, if not impossible, sum.
Expecting the 21-year-old to produce consistent performances to ensure the gradual phasing out of Modric and Kroos does not come at the cost of league titles being lost is no easy process, however, so it is understandable why Zidane would want to bolster his options in central midfield.
Casemiro has played 3,120 minutes this season – more than any other Madrid player – and the 28-year-old has been a virtual ever-present since the day Zidane first arrived at the club as a manager in his first spell in 2016.
According to Diario AS, the Frenchman wants to give Casemiro additional rest given the number of minutes he plays and three names are under considerations as the Brazilian’s replacement.
A report on Monday this week claimed 17-year-old Rennes midfielder Eduardo Camavinga is seen as the solution to this problem but Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, below and Boubakary Soumare of Lille are also being considered.
Real missed out on the chance to sign Camavinga earlier in his career for around £8.5m but his performances in Ligue 1 for Rennes have inflated the asking price to over £40m, according to the report.
Kante would prove a lot harder to attain after the France World Cup winner signed a new five-year contract with Chelsea in November 2018.
The 29-year-old became Chelsea’s highest earner on a reported £290,000 a week, but the emergence of Billy Gilmour and the club’s strength in midfield may lead to the club to reconsider their priorities ahead of the summer transfer window.
Soumare heads the emerging generation of French talent, and Real would face competition from a host of Premier League clubs who have also been eyeing the 21-year-old’s rise to prominence. Montero would be surprised if either Soumare or Kante were to form part of Zidane’s rebuild.
“It would be strange for me if Madrid were to sign Kante as he’s 29,” he added. “The three famous players who helped give Zidane three successive Champions League titles – Casemiro, Kroos and Modric – are amazing but age is now a problem.
“Zidane has not always used Modric, with Valverde coming in. We’ve seen the first transition, and in this next year, we will see more an evolution in the midfield.”
Then there is the subject of Paul Pogba.
Last summer, Zidane tried to convince Perez to purchase the Manchester United midfielder, but United resisted all overtures.
The former Juventus man has made only eight appearances this season due to a further setback following foot surgery, but he is expected to resume training once the club are able to following the coronavirus pandemic.
Interest has recently cooled due to Valverde’s displays but El Desmarque claims Real will look to land the long-time target this summer, with his contract expiring at Old Trafford in June 2021. It may well prove that achieving a breakthrough on any Pogba deal acts as the catalyst for a second summer of rebuild at Real.
Montero added: “Zidane’s obsession is to sign Pogba. There is plenty of debate in Spain already about Valverde being better than Pogba, but he’s a world champion, he’s only just turned 27 and he’s box-to-box. Camavinga is another option as he falls in line with the transfer strategy the club are wanting to follow.
“Then there is Isco. In the same way Zidane resurrected Marcelo’s Madrid career, so too did he bring Isco back from the dead. Before the coronavirus crisis, the feeling in Spain was that Luis Enrique was going to call up Isco to the Spanish national team. A year ago, that certainly wouldn’t have been the case.
“Martin Odegaard’s loan with Real Sociedad is for another season, but my feeling is that Madrid will not break that agreement with the Sociedad president Jokin Aperribay as they have a very good relationship. He’s been performing really well and while it’s a possibility of him coming back, I think he’ll stay at Sociedad given the number of options still in midfield.”
How likely is Mbappe this summer?
It has been a disastrous season for Luka Jovic. The £52.5m signing from Eintracht Frankfurt has mustered two goals, and he was forced to explain his actions last month after allegedly breaking the coronavirus quarantine imposed by Serbian authorities during a trip to his homeland.
“Madrid have spent a lot of money on Jovic, but we have to recognise that he simply hasn’t played many minutes,” Montero said. “The feeling at the club is that he can improve and is a lot better than he’s demonstrated so far.”
Arsenal had been linked with the 22-year-old when the transfer window re-opens, but it is understood Real will not entertain the idea of Jovic leaving so soon after arriving.
Remarkably, Madrid would have 37 first-team players if all those currently out on loan were to return this summer.
Before Zidane can rebuild his squad with fresh blood, he must trim it. Dani Ceballos, on loan at Arsenal, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale could all be offloaded for nominal fees in order to reduce the sizeable wage bill.
The Frenchman has demonstrated he can move away from a set 4-3-3 system out of necessity. During the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, which Madrid won on penalties against Atletico, Karim Benzema was deployed as a lone striker in front of a five-man midfield.
At the time, it was the most effective option, but also the perfect environment in which to try something different in the continued absence of Hazard.
For Real Madrid and Zidane, however, setting up to win by the slimmest margin will not be sustainable. Beyond Benzema’s 18 goals in all competitions this season, defender Ramos is the second-highest scorer on seven.
Quite simply, extra firepower is needed if Madrid are to become Europe’s dominant force once more, which is why the clamour for Kylian Mbappe and Haaland cannot be avoided across the Spanish sports pages.
“Madrid will only spend a crazy amount for Mbappe,” Montero claimed. “It will be impossible for them to win titles with just Benzema scoring goals. Barcelona have so many options, but Madrid must hope Hazard and Marco Asensio come back from injury like two new signings.”
By Sky Sports
Edited by Tiyani wa ka Mabasa