Real Madrid have enjoyed a quietly effective summer in the transfer market, replacing a handful of unwanted veterans with a new batch of talented youngsters.
Understandably after winning the double, Zinedine Zidane has seen no need to make major changes to his squad and the only outstanding issue is whether the club will make a serious effort to sign French teen sensation Kylian Mbappe.
Los Blancos ooze quality throughout the squad, giving Zidane the ability to name two entirely separate teams without suffering a drop in quality – and he will continue to regularly take that option to keep everyone involved.
Towards the end of last season there was a widespread expectation that David de Gea was on the verge of completing his long-mooted move to Madrid, with Keylor Navas being readied for the exit door.
But a good performance from Navas in the Champions League Final, concluding a generally solid season, gave further weight to the argument that the Costa Rican should be retained, and for now the rumours over de Gea’s future have gone quiet.
Whoever ends up as first choice between the posts, former Espanyol shot-stopper Kiko Casilla is an ideal back-up, providing a reliable pair of hands but happy to accept only rare first team outings.
The big question remains: will Florentino Perez make another move on de Gea, or stick with Navas?
As he is throughout the squad, Zinedine Zidane is well stocked in defence and no further movements in the summer market look likely.
There have been a couple of big-name departures, with long-serving Portuguese duo Fabio Coentrao and Pepe making exits from the club.
But they have been seamlessly replaced by a pair of new faces, with Theo Hernandez being snapped up from Atletico Madrid to compete with Marcelo at left-back and another highly-rated youngster, Jesus Vallejo, returning from a loan spell at Eintracht Frankfurt.
Twenty-year-old centre back Vallejo was initially signed by Madrid two years ago before being loaned straight back to boyhood club Real Zaragoza, but Zidane now believes he is ready for first team football behind Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane and Nacho.
The only major deficit in Zidane’s double-winning squad last season was a genuine back-up for Casemiro as the defensive-minded shield in front of the back four.
But that has now been rectified with the return of young Marcos Llorente, who excelled during a loan season with Alaves last year and will now provide an outstanding alternative to the criminally under-sung Casemiro.
Further forward, James Rodriguez’s departure to Bayern Munich was no surprise even if the nature of his exit, a two-year loan, did raise eyebrows.
The Colombian star’s place as a squad player will effectively be taken by Dani Ceballos, an energetic, skilful and hard-working 20 year-old new signing from Real Betis who greatly impressed for Spain’s under 21 team during this summer’s European Championships.
The attacking positions were always likely to provide the greatest source of intrigue this summer, and that remains the case with a big-money move for Monaco starlet Kylian Mbappe still in the offing.
First, however, Madrid will need to find a new home for Alvaro Morata, who looked poised to join Manchester United before the English giants made their shock late swoop for Romelu Lukaku.
Morata’s departure is important because the funds from his sale would be put towards the purchase of Mbappe, who remains a major target for Florentino Perez.
Although it’s unlikely, the possibility of Gareth Bale being sold remains in the air, but Cristiano Ronaldo will surely stay put despite creating headlines with his unexpected threats to quit the club earlier in the summer.
It seems one of this summer’s most inevitable transfers may have finally reached a conclusion with Inter’s Ivan Perisic close to joining Manchester United after the Milanese side reportedly accepted a €45.7 million bid.
The move has been touted for months, but intensified as the 2016/17 campaign drew to a close with the Croatian international pointedly spending time waving goodbye to Nerazzurri supporters at San Siro following the club’s final game of the season.
He spent last term proving his quality, weighing in with 11 goals and eight assists as he constantly tormented opponents who had little answer for his pace and the direct manner in which he attack defences.
But the key question will be whether or not he can enjoy similar success in England. Can Perisic prove to be good value for money as United aim to re-establish themselves as a dominant force both domestically and in the Champions League?
Jose Mourinho personally observed the 28-year-old back in March, taking in a game during the international break as his club intensified their interest in a player who looks tailor-made for the Portuguese coach.
Usually deployed on the left flank, Perisic has a great understanding of when to try take on his man and when to pass the ball off to a team-mate. According to statistics courtesy of OPTA, he was successful with 51% of his take-on attempts and 71.4% of the passes he made, connecting with an average of 39.7 per 90 minutes.
The former Borussia Dortmund man also laid on two clear goal-scoring opportunities per 90 minutes, providing Mauro Icardi with the kind of service Romelu Lukaku will feast upon as they grow accustomed to playing together.
Perisic worked incredibly hard off the pitch over the last 18 months, applying himself more diligently in the gym and the added muscle plus the vastly increased work ethic saw him become a far more consistent player.
It must be noted however that Perisic – much like new Liverpool signing Mohamed Salah – benefitted from the lack of orthodox wingers in Serie A, many defenders simply unversed in dealing with players who can carry the ball forward with such great pace.
How that duo adapt to life in England where such traits are far more common will be a major factor in determining their success, but unlike the Egyptian, Perisic is no lightweight speedster. Far better equipped to deal with physical defenders, he also does his share of work without the ball, something Mourinho will certainly be aware of.
When Stefano Pioli took charge of Inter back in November, the coach quickly realised that the biggest weakness in his squad was at full-back, an observation that eventually led to his wingers being asked to protect those behind them whenever the Nerazzurri lost the ball.
Applying himself consistently and accepting those instructions, Perisic averaged 1.6 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per 90 minutes, showing he is certainly robust enough to cope with the demands of the Premier League.
Yet there are questions about his temperament, a February defeat at Juventus Stadium highlighting that he occasionally fails to keep his temper in check.
With the Bianconeri already 1-0 ahead thanks to Juan Cuadrado’s incredible long-distance strike, an angry Perisic confronted the referee amid penalty claims and was red carded for his physical outburst in stoppage time.
He was suspended as a result of that petulance, as was club captain Mauro Icardi who kicked the ball at the same official after the final whistle. While certainly not a major negative, it is something to note when looking at the high price being paid to bring the Croatian to England even in a summer of hugely inflated fees.
This is after all a player Jurgen Klopp told to “keep his mouth shut” during their time together at Dortmund, but Perisic has improved exponentially over the five years since he publicly fell out with the current Liverpool manager over a lack of playing time.
It is also impossible to deny that attacking players from Serie A have struggled when moving to England in recent years, with no guarantees that even the now more robust and effective Inter winger can shun that trend.
However, there is little doubt that he is a fine player and one who suits Mourinho’s approach and tactical preferences. His characteristics fit well with Lukaku, while Paul Pogba will undoubtedly enjoy having such an outlet flanking him in United’s 4-2-3-1 framework.
Ivan Perisic enjoys a challenge, and proving he is worth that hefty €45.7 million fee is almost certainly going to be exactly that.
Gareth Bale admits he has no idea if Cristiano Ronaldo will still be a team-mate of his at Real Madrid next season – but is keeping his fingers crossed the Portugal superstar does end up staying with the European champions.
Not for the first time, speculation about Ronaldo’s future is one of football’s hottest topics after last month’s shock revelation that the 32-year-old was determined to quit Real and Spain.
That was due to the reigning Ballon d’Or and Best FIFA Men’s Player award winner feeling he was being singled out for disproportionate treatment after Spanish prosecutors accused him of evading tax of €14.7million. Those allegations were denied in a statement by Ronaldo’s management company Gestifute.
Ronaldo, who had been linked with a return to Manchester United, has remained silent on his future since then and it remains to be seen if Real’s all-time record goalscorer will line up for Zinedine Zidane’s men at the start of the coming season.
Bale hopes that will be the case, but insists he has no inside knowledge as to what his team-mate – who last November signed a contract tying him to Real until 2021 – will end up doing.
Gareth Bale on Real Madrid: "I have not thought of leaving Madrid. I know it is difficult to recover the position, but I am here for that." pic.twitter.com/E96fnhjCc1— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) July 17, 2017
Asked if he thinks Ronaldo wants to leave, Bale told Spanish newspaper Marca: “I’ve not read anything, I haven’t got a clue about what’s going to happen. Look, I only found out yesterday that (Romelu) Lukaku has signed for Manchester United… I honestly don’t know.
“You’ll have to ask him.”
But on whether Bale wants Ronaldo to remain at the Bernabeu, the former Tottenham forward was much clearer, saying: “Of course, we won titles, we did well, we don’t need to change anything.”
Bale and Ronaldo have been club-mates since 2013 and were part of the Madrid squad that won the Champions League and LaLiga titles last season, although the Wales international’s contribution was once more disrupted by injury – including an ankle problem which almost robbed him of a place in the Champions League final in his home city of Cardiff.
The 28-year-old has been plagued by fitness problems during his time in Spain but is hoping a strong pre-season will help stand him in good stead for the coming campaign.
Gareth Bale’s leg muscles should terrify us all. pic.twitter.com/T3QWtCADKw— B/R Football (@brfootball) July 16, 2017
“(The ankle is) fine. Obviously during the holidays I haven’t done a lot of intensive stuff on the area, in order to recover well,” he said.
“I found it difficult to stay fit last season due to the pain. I’ve worked hard to recover and now be able to take a full part in pre-season.
“I was annoyed last season because you always try to return to help the team, and give the best of yourself. Maybe I should have had more time recovering, and not forcing things, but now there is no pain. The ankle feels strong and I’m ready.
“I’m going to try and have my best season, of course, and if I respect the injuries I will have a great season. Now I need to make myself strong to try and avoid these injuries.”
Bale was a doubt for June’s Champions League final even in the days leading up to the match after being sidelined since April 23 with ankle ligament damage, but he was passed fit and ended up playing the last 13 minutes of the 4-1 win over Juventus.
He added: “I worked hard, 12 hours a day, to be available for the final, to make sure the ankle was OK, and to be able to enjoy those minutes was really rewarding. Lifting the cup in front of my family and friends was incredible.”
Provided by Press Association Sport