How Real Madrid’s strongest XI could look next season

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The 2020/21 season seems a lifetime away – but, these days, even next week doesn’t feel particularly imminent.

If a solution arises from the furious brainstorming European clubs are engaged in to get their hands on the eye-watering sums which broadcasters are reluctant to dish out, Real Madrid would be in for a hotly-contested title race if the current campaign resumes.

It’s unlikely, even if Barcelona pip Madrid to the title, that Zinedine Zidane will be given his marching orders before next season. With the weight of his legacy as a player – and that hat-trick of Champions Leagues can’t hurt – overriding Florentino Pérez’s short-termism.
Nevertheless, even Zidane won’t be able to last much longer if Madrid fail to bring home any silverware next season, so, let’s take a look at the ideal XI the Frenchman would want to sate the never-ending hunger for success in the Spanish capital.

GK – Thibaut Courtois

No goalkeeper in La Liga has kept more than the 12 clean sheets Courtois can boast this season. Courtois didn’t enjoy the smoothest of starts to life at Real Madrid. The 6’7 Belgian first had to dethrone three-time Champions League winner Keylor Navas and this season Courtois was supposedly so overcome with a bout of anxiety during a match against Club Brugge that he was subbed off at half-time. Yet, as the weeks have gone by, the 27-year-old has grown in confidence with his performances between the sticks following a similar upward trend and prior to the suspension of play, the former Atlético Madrid man was enjoying the best form of his career.

RB – Achraf Hakimi

Hakimi is one of only 11 players in Europe’s top five leagues with assist figures in double digits. A club’s recruitment department is doing something right when they can bring in one of the most exciting young talents in European football for free. Madrid-born Hakimi has thrived since joining Borussia Dortmund on loan in the summer of 2018. In Germany, the electric Morocco international spent his first season admirably filling in at left-back before dominating Dortmund’s entire right flank this campaign. Adept in a flat back-four and particularly potent as a wing-back, Hakimi would be one of the best additions Madrid could make this summer if they are able to resist Dortmund’s advances.

CB – Raphaël Varane

Varane has scored as many La Liga goals as Gareth Bale this season (2). When the phone rang and a teenage Varane recognised Zidane’s voice on the other end of the line, the then Lens player politely cut the conversation short so he could focus on studying for his upcoming university entrance exams. Almost a decade later the loss of the academic world has been football’s gain. At just 27 years of age, Varane is, incredibly, coming into the peak of his career in theory, despite boasting a trophy cabinet stuffed with two La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and the World Cup. It’s coming up to three years since the Frenchman’s last contract extension, and with his current deal expiring in 2022 it would be madness if Real Madrid fail to tie him down for the foreseeable future.

CB – Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos is Real Madrid’s second top scorer this season, with seven goals across all competitions. Despite being one of the oldest members of a pretty senior squad as it is, Ramos has rarely put a foot wrong at the heart of Madrid’s defence. A defence which has conceded just 19 goals in 27 La Liga outings, the best record in the division. The club’s captain may turn 35 before the end of next season but the leadership qualities he brings to the team, not to mention his ability on the pitch, make him one of the first names on the team-sheet.

LB – Ferland Mendy

After injuries blighted the start of his first season in Madrid, Mendy has worked his way past Marcelo in the pecking order. The 24-year-old’s discipline on the left would act as a much needed balance for Hakimi’s rampaging runs down the opposite flank and with a year of Spanish football under his belt, next season should prove to be an even more impressive campaign for the Frenchman.

DM – Casemiro

No Real Madrid player has played more minutes than Casemiro across all competitions this season. Casemiro has been an integral part of this Real Madrid side since Zidane’s first spell in charge saw one of his earliest acts as manager give the Brazilian a regular starting birth. Los Blancos would certainly benefit from strengthening this area of midfield, with Casemiro the only out-and-out holding player in the squad, but the 28-year-old’s place in the first-choice XI isn’t remotely in doubt.

CM – Fede Valverde

The 21-year-old Valverde is the only player under 27 to have played more than 30 games for Real Madrid this season. Fede Valverde has arguably been the La Liga’s breakout star of the season. After starting just six league games last campaign the Uruguayan has rapidly become one of the key players in Zidane’s team. The seemingly endless energy reserves he possesses and searing pace have seen him deployed in several positions across Madrid’s midfield, but whatever system Zidane lines up with next year, Valverde has to be in it.

CM – Martin Odegaard

Martin Odegaard is currently on his third loan spell since joining Real Madrid in 2015. Los Blancos have witnessed the talent the on-loan Odegaard has displayed this season first-hand, as the Norwegian opened the scoring at the Bernabéu in a 4-3 Copa del Rey thriller. More than five years on from joining Madrid as a 16-year-old, Odegaard seems to have come of age in the blue and white of Real Sociedad this season, lacerating defences with incisive passes inevitably off his left foot. Much like Hakimi, the 21-year-old could be brought to the Spanish capital without a penny being spent if Madrid choose to terminate his two-year loan deal with the Basque club early.

RW – Rodrygo

Rodrygo joined Real Madrid for £40.5m from Brazilian side Santos in 2019. As one of Madrid’s three Brazilian teenagers, Rodrygo has arguably shown the most promise so far this season (or, at least more than Vinícius Júnior given Reinier is yet to feature). Rodrygo may be a little shot-shy in front of goal but he’s demonstrated an impressive ability to select the best moment to pull the trigger, something desperately lacking from Vinícius’ game. But perhaps most crucially of all, the 19-year-old right winger can comfortably fit into the same starting XI as Eden Hazard – a player who was once the screensaver on Rodrygo’s phone.

ST – Karim Benzema

Lionel Messi is the only player to have scored more La Liga goals than Karim Benzema since August 2018. Benzema may be the wrong side of 30 but since stepping out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s sizeable shadow the Frenchman has impressively coped with his new role as the side’s talisman. Madrid may want to consider bolstering their striker force given their reliance upon Benzema, but the Frenchman has plenty of miles still left in the tank to lead the line for several years to come.

LW – Eden Hazard

Despite starting just nine La Liga games this season, Hazard has won a league-high three penalties Hazard’s dream move has descended into something more akin to a nightmare this season. The 29-year-old has missed almost double as many games through injury in less than one campaign with Madrid as he did over the course of seven years at Chelsea. But, in the brief moments when he’s been fully fit, the Madrid faithful have witnessed flashes of the terrorising winger Premier League defenders came to fear. And if the La Liga season does get back under way on the proposed date of 12 June, those fans may even see their £90m man back in action this term.

By 90min

Edited by Tiyani wa ka Mabasa

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