While Real Madrid aren’t exactly turning into a version of their greatest rivals by focusing on adding one player each summer to strengthen their incredibly talented youth system products, it seems that building around Cristiano Ronaldo is taking a different direction, going for “cheaper”, local talent instead of always going for the biggest name out there.
Don’t get me wrong – Real Madrid are still involved in the Gareth Bale saga, which might become the most expensive and unnecessary signing in history, while they’ve been linked to Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani as well, losing out to more persistent investors.
And yet the signings of Isco, who is coming in the same mold of Mesut Ozil from three years ago – a star of the U-21 tournament and following one or two good seasons with his club, Malaga, and Asier Illarramendi, seem to be something of a change in direction or perception. They weren’t cheap – the two cost a combined €60 million, but the fact that they’re Spanish and both came to succeed now and in the future while strengthening positions Real Madrid needed help in make them somewhat unusual compared to the past.
The center of everything is still Cristiano Ronaldo, although Carlo Ancelotti might be using him in a different way than in the past, placing him as a supporting striker next to Karim Benzema, but it seems like there will be two formations for Real Madrid to sift through, one of them putting Ronaldo on the left and another in the more centered position, which he also played in during Manuel Pellegrini’s season at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Are Real Madrid favorites to win the title this season? Before we see official matches, the answer has to be no. Even if Mesut Ozil looks great in preseason, while Angel di Maria and Karim Benzema are quite happy without Jose Mourinho and/or competition for their position at the moment, it’s still too soon. Barcelona have the right for the ‘favorites’, even if it’s still unknown just how well Neymar and Lionel Messi will perform together, while the question surrounding the decline of Xavi will be answered soon enough.
The way Ancelotti manages to blend Isco and Mesut Ozil together might the single biggest thing in Real Madrid’s season and the difference between another futile chase after Barcelona, which has happened in four of the last five seasons, or a second championship in three years and possibly figuring out how to get past the Champions League semifinal for the first time in 11 years.
And there’s the defensive midfield question, which is mostly about Xabi Alonso, who might be losing his place. It seems that at the moment, Ancelotti prefers Isco and Luka Modric playing in front of Sami Khedira, but Asier Illarramendi should become a more prominent part of this lineup very soon, and probably push Modric back into a rotational position.
Ronaldo is the only one you are absolutely guaranteed to get some kind of production of very high quality from. He does have his highs & lows, but it’s less about what he does on his own, and more about what the team built around him manages to bring out of themselves and him in order to answer the question if Real Madrid will become champions by the end of the season.