Real Madrid: Full Report Card for Every Position Entering La Liga Season
In six days' time, Real Madrid will kick off their bid to win La Liga against Albert Ferrer's Cordoba side at the Bernabeu.
Before then though, they meet city rivals Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa. The first leg takes place on Tuesday evening at Madrid's 85,000-seat home, with the second leg on Friday at the Vicente Calderon.
Los Blancos have already had one chance to show off their superstar-filled squad, seeing off Sevilla in the European Super Cup in Cardiff last week.
And with a potential six trophies up for grabs this year, Carlo Ancelotti's squad is looking in better shape than it did 12 months ago. James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Keylor Navas have been signed, while as of now very few notable players have left.
The following slides take a look at how well off Madrid are at each position. Age, quality, depth and fitness are all considered when awarding a grade. It was also noted whether there were better players at those positions elsewhere in football, as Madrid pride themselves on having the very best.
Options: Iker Casillas, Keylor Navas
Despite concerns over the fact Iker Casillas has spent large parts of the last 18 months plunked on the bench, plus his poor form at this summer's World Cup, Real Madrid look quite well set in the goalkeeping department.
Diego Lopez's loss is a blow on a personal level. The 33-year-old clearly loved the club and was a good professional during his brief Bernabeu stay but doesn't quite have the quality of the world's top stoppers. That said, he rarely did too much wrong at Madrid and leaves the club for AC Milan with a solid reputation still intact.
The arrival of Keylor Navas, on the face of it, appears to improve Carlo Ancelotti's options for the No. 1 jersey. The Costa Rican can lay claim to being the best goalkeeper in Spain last season and the best at the World Cup in Brazil. However, this form has blitzed us from nowhere, so the question still needs to be answered whether he can carry that on with the European champions.
Competition between Navas and Casillas should keep them both switched on and alert, but it is difficult to put them in the same bracket as the likes of Manuel Neuer and Thibaut Courtois at the time of writing.
For that reason, it's hard to award Madrid's goalkeepers the very top grade heading into the new La Liga season.
Options: Dani Carvajal, Alvaro Arbeloa
Could also play there: Sergio Ramos, Nacho Fernandez, Raphael Varane
Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Arbeloa complement each other quite well. In Arbeloa, Real Madrid have Spain's right-back from the last five years, more or less, while in Carvajal they have the man who could be La Roja's right-side full-back for the next five.
However, as with the goalkeepers, neither is the best in the world at his position. At 31, Arbeloa is a player on the decline and often causes more trouble than he's worth for the club.
For example, only last week he was in the news for retweeting a tweet which was insulting toward Iker Casillas. It may sound pathetic, and it largely is, but it is not uncommon for Arbeloa to get himself tangled up in such petty incidents.
In the other corner, Carvajal is likely to be Ancelotti's first-choice right-back. He has plenty of room to grow, but is not quite there yet; this season, many will hope, could see him move to the next level.
There are better options out there, but Carvajal and Arbeloa add to the Spanish feel within the side; the former also adds potential, while the latter contributes experience.
Options: Fabio Coentrao, Marcelo
Could also play there: Nacho Fernandez, Alvaro Arbeloa
It's not easy to be critical when Real Madrid have Portugal's and Brazil's left-backs competing for a spot in their lineup, but there are doubts over both heading into the season.
Fabio Coentrao is brilliant on his day, which is why Madrid paid north of €20 million for him several years ago. Unfortunately, his time at the Bernabeu has been hindered by a string of injuries. Transfermarkt list hamstring and abductor muscle tears among those which have kept the 26-year-old out of action in the Spanish capital.
And with Coentrao often struggling to maintain his place in the side, Marcelo has been the man to benefit. The Brazilian is a joy to watch going forward at times, but questions will always remain over his defensive work.
For large parts of the season that will go unnoticed, with Madrid expected to pummel inferior opposition in Spain, although in the latter stages in Europe those frailties are cause for concern. That's when Coentrao's fitness comes into play.
Overall though, Los Blancos have two very good left-backs, both of whom are at a good age, and the competition should be healthy.
Options: Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Raphael Varane, Nacho Fernandez
Pepe looked like his time at Real Madrid might be coming to an end in Jose Mourinho's final season at the club, but the Portuguese centre-back bounced back under Carlo Ancelotti last season to form a reliable pairing with Sergio Ramos.
It looks as if that experienced duo will once again start the campaign as the Italian's preferred centre-back offering.
Both have been at the very top level for many years, and as this summer has proven, it will be tough for Madrid to replace them without forking out a sum of around €30 million—not that money is often a problem for Florentino Perez.
Fortunately, however, they have one of the best young defenders in the world already at the club in Raphael Varane. The Frenchman is ready to become a mainstay in Ancelotti's team at any given moment and will be pushing Pepe and Ramos for a starting position all the way this season—providing he doesn't have more bad luck with injuries.
Away from those three very good options, Madrid would then have to turn to Nacho Fernandez if they found themselves with an injury or suspension crisis.
Options: Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso, Toni Kroos, Asier Illarramendi, Luka Modric
Could also play there: Angel Di Maria, Isco
One area where Real Madrid don't have to worry about options is in central midfield. Carlo Ancelotti is likely to occupy either two deeper midfielders or a midfield three, and in either case at least two of those listed above are likely to fill those roles.
Toni Kroos has arrived from Bayern Munich and will take up the No. 8 shirt. The German international is expected to be a regular in Ancelotti's side and was handed a start in a deeper role alongside Luka Modric in last week's European Super Cup.
Modric was superb last season, making it difficult to see a Madrid side without his intelligence involved.
That would leave Xabi Alonso, Asier Illarramendi and Sami Khedira out of the side, while Angel Di Maria and Isco could also, in times of desperation, play in a more withdrawn midfield role.
Alonso's experience and range of passing brings a lot to Los Blancos, but there are signs lately he might just be beginning to slow down. As for Illarramendi, he hasn't quite hit the ground running like he would have liked to after last summer's transfer from Real Sociedad—there is still time for him, though.
Meanwhile, Khedira, with one year to run on his contract, faces an uncertain future. Charles Perrin of the Express reported that his agent was in London this week ahead of a potential move to Chelsea or Arsenal, and with his seeming reluctance to sign a new deal, plus Madrid's luxury of midfield options, it is easy to imagine the 27-year-old leaving the club before August is up.
Attacking Midfield: A+
Options: James Rodriguez, Angel Di Maria, Isco
Could also play there: Luka Modric, Toni Kroos
The arrival of James Rodriguez could see Ancelotti once again lean toward a 4-2-3-1 formation, despite often preferring a 4-3-3 last season.
However, those are good options for the Italian to have. James' form at the World Cup made the world sit up and Florentino Perez get out his checkbook. The 23-year-old Colombian arrived at Real Madrid with his reputation through the roof; big things will be expected from him this season.
If James is absent, rested or dropped, there are plenty of other good players who could fill an advanced midfield role for Los Blancos.
Angel Di Maria's performances through the middle last season were impressive, energetic and effective. Isco, last summer's big signing and still only 22, is also a good option to play there.
Finally, Kroos and Modric, despite looking like having deeper roles this season, could both step forward and play as more attacking midfielders. With James, Isco and Di Maria—unless he leaves—it's unlikely they'll be needed further forward, though.
Wide Forward: A+
Options: Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Jese Rodriguez, Angel Di Maria
Could also play there: Isco, James Rodriguez
Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of the best players in the world; that Madrid can line them up on either flank makes for a frightening sight for opposition defenders.
In the past it was hard enough keeping tabs on Ronaldo, but now trying to keep him and Bale at bay seems at times like an impossible task—it's certainly an unenviable one. The pair possess pace and strength in abundance, while their ability to find the net is brutal.
The Welshman looks in the shape of his life after a full pre-season with Madrid and a summer without the World Cup, while the Portuguese savaged concerns about his fitness with a brace in the European Super Cup win over Sevilla.
Backing those two up are Angel Di Maria and Jese Rodriguez.
Jese is still recovering from an injury, but there are high hopes in the Spanish capital that the 21-year-old can eventually establish himself as a homegrown Galactico.
Di Maria's future is less certain. Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail say Manchester United are preparing a £100 million package to land the Argentine star, while Paris Saint-Germain have been frequently linked with him this summer as well. Carlo Ancelotti would like to keep him, per Alex Harris of the Daily Star, but he may not get his way.
Elsewhere, James Rodriguez and Isco could fill wider positions if necessary.
Options: Karim Benzema, Jese Rodriguez
Could also play there: Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Isco
Karim Benzema is good, but is he the best?
There are better central strikers than the Frenchman in world football today, but he does seem to fit perfectly into Real Madrid's system. For that reason, it made sense to award him a new contract at the club this summer.
Still only 26, Benzema has fought off competition from Gonzalo Higuain to remain at the club in the past, and he acts as the perfect foil for Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
Behind him, though, is where Madrid may encounter problems.
An injury to Benzema early on would leave Carlo Ancelotti with no natural centre-forward at the club. Jese Rodriguez is still out injured, and the 21-year-old is the only other player who could be considered an out-and-out striker. And even that's being flexible.
Elsewhere, Ronaldo or Bale could be reluctantly shifted inside, while either James Rodriguez or Isco could fill in as a false nine.
With so much firepower in the other areas, however, a lack of depth in the striking department is unlikely to hinder Madrid’s assault on glory this season.