The 2016/17 season was a year to remember for everyone associated with Real Madrid as it was the most successful in a long time, 58 years to be precise.
It was made all the more sweeter as Barcelona were left with only the Copa Del Rey, which, in light of trophies they’ve won in recent times, served as an understatement. The fact it was not even celebrated widely by the Catalans, moreover, demonstrated how little they value the King’s Cup.
The celebrations were muted in contrast to the wild celebrations at the Cibeles Plaza where Los Blancos celebrated their domestic and European double.
Squad depth & rotation the keys to victory
There are so many schools of thought as to why the Spanish giants had differing seasons. Some point to the coach’s influence, tactics, the determination to win in the squad and the use of their players.
However, the idea that held the most water with pundits and journalists alike was the latter; Zidane used his players to the max and a lot of them topped the 2000-minute mark, no mean feat for any player.
His rotations were meticulously carried out, routinely changing the team game after game with as much as eight or, at times, nine changes to the lineup. Enrique, on the other hand, never used all his substitutes in most of the matches Barça played last season, which amounted to no fewer than 60 games.
These changes told during the business end of the season as Real Madrid ended the campaign refreshed and with a spring in their step, while Barcelona were accused of lacking intensity in their play, which was punished in Paris and Turin with heavy losses in the Champions League and even at minnows Deportivo.
Keeping the back-ups happy
The idea of squad rotation can only be fully carried out when the coach has absolute trust in his backup players and when the players themselves are up to the task of replacing the first team.
This was where Zidane had an edge over most of his counterparts across Europe, as it could be argued his first team was not that stronger than those at Bayern Munich and Barcelona, but he had a lot of star quality on his bench, big name players like James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata.
They mostly featured in games where the first XI needed a rest or away games against relative minnows, a luxury only he could afford.
The big problem with having that much star quality on the fringes is that they were never going to agree to become benchwarmers for much longer as they’re also talented and want to play in the big games regularly.
Thus the outflow started.
James Rodriguez left for Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal with an obligation to buy in 2019, whilst Morata left for Chelsea in a £70 million move and signed a five-year deal.
Danilo is set to follow suit in a £26.5 million transfer to join Pep Guardiola’s revolution at Manchester City and, all of a sudden, the core of the bench is off.
The big question that should be asked in the boardroom is what must be done to replace the players without reducing the quality in the squad.
Signing necessary replacements
Dani Ceballos has been signed to replace James and, even though he’s not a like-for-like replacement, it’s a step forward as he’s younger, more dynamic and offers more in the defensive aspect.
Danilo could be replaced with Hakimi Achraf, who would follow the path Dani Carvajal followed, without the sale and the buy-back the Spaniard had to go through.
However, he’s a little too raw and might not be trusted to replace Carvajal in the big games, which is the reason why Odriozola at Real Sociedad is being targeted. He’s 21 and the €40 million price tag might just push Madrid to look closer to home as they don’t pay that amount of money for defenders, as well as their seeming deviation from the Galactico policy in favour of young talented players.
Morata out, Mbappe in?
The main player they need to replace is Alvaro Morata; his goals in La Liga gave Los Blancos 13 points last season and his late winner against Sporting Lisbon springs to mind as well.
He was the one responsible for getting the goals whenever the first team were left at home and they’ll be missed. At the moment, furthermore, quality goal-scorers are hard to find, never mind one willing to stay on the bench.
This is where Kylian Mbappé comes in.
He has been courted by Real since he was 14, had a trial with them, but decided to move to Monaco, a decision that appears to have paid off. He counts Cristiano Ronaldo as one of his idols, he watches videos of Zizou, another one of his idols, he has always wanted to move to the Bernabeu and the time might just be around the corner.
The only obstacle to a move is the frightening transfer fee Monaco have placed on his head, a reported £130 million. This would be by far and away the highest amount ever paid for any player, never mind a youngster with one season under his belt.
Mbappé is supremely talented with a keen eye for goal, he’s 18 and could compete with Karim Benzema, who turns 30 in December, for a spot in the first XI. With necessary minutes under his belt, Mbappé might just be able to oust Benzema from the starting line up by this time.
Quantity or quality?
If Mbappé is not eventually brought in, then Real Sociedad’s Willian Jose might be a good idea as he’s good in the air, would score his fair share of goals and would not demand minutes in a way Morata did.
In all, the depth in the squad must not be allowed to drop in quality if success at the top level must be maintained.