Who will be playing for Real Madrid next season?
At the moment there are very few clear answers to that question, with the return of Zinedine Zidane as head coach giving fresh hope to some players while seemingly throwing the futures of others into doubt.
Zidane, of course, won’t be the only one making the decisions and all-powerful club president Florentino Perez looks likely to end his recent austerity policy by making a serious splash in the summer transfer market. That’s the only reason, surely, that Zidane agreed to come back in the first place.
If big names are coming in, that could well mean big names also are going out. Perez has always shown himself to be more than willing to jettison superstars in the past, no matter how big their name or how strong their position within the dressing room.
Raul, Iker Casillas and Cristiano Ronaldo are just three men who can attest to the president’s ruthlessness, and nobody in the current squad should feel too secure.
Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are among those under threat of being moved on this summer, but a lot can change in the next couple of months. With nothing to play for in terms of trophies, the remainder of this season can be basically regarded as a long audition, with Zidane running the rule over his squad to decide who deserves to be kept for another campaign.
That audition got under way with Saturday afternoon’s home meeting against relegation-threatened Celta Vigo, when Zidane gave an early indication of his intentions by recalling Isco, Marcelo, Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Keylor Navas into the starting line-up after spells in the wilderness under previous boss Santiago Solari.
All of them passed with flying colours, with Bale and Isco getting on the scoresheet in the 2-0 victory. Marcelo and Asensio played key roles in the build-ups to those goals and Navas made an excellent save from Maxi Gomez when the game was goalless.
We cannot forget that Zidane was without five players through injury and suspension, including almost-certain starters Dani Carvajal, Casemiro and Vinicius Junior. But it seems certain that the French tactician will, at the very least, give his established stars the chance to prove they are not ready to be consigned to the scrapheap.
New players, however, will certainly be recruited and, interestingly, the audition will not only be conducted at Santiago Bernabeu, with several existing Madrid men who are currently out on loan now in a new position to make their case for a recall to the club.
Mateo Kovacic at Chelsea, James Rodriguez at Bayern Munich and Theo Hernandez at Real Sociedad are the three highest-profile performers hoping to impress Zidane sufficiently, but there are plenty more who will be aiming to emulate the example of Casemiro. His Madrid career appeared to be over when he was loaned to Porto in 2014, before returning to become a regular starter.
Martin Odegaard, Borja Mayoral and Lucas Silva are among those hoping to catch Zidane’s eye in the coming weeks, but perhaps the most intriguing potential Madrid star is striker Raul de Tomas. He is enjoying an excellent campaign with relegation threatened Rayo Vallecano, netting 11 league goals to become the second-highest-scoring Spaniard in La Liga only behind Jaime Mata of Getafe.
De Tomas is exactly the kind of striker Madrid have been lacking this season: he is a penalty box predator, who comes alive whenever a sight of goal presents itself and has the confidence to get his shot away early (does that sound familiar to a certain former Los Blancos star?).
He has totalled more than 50 goals during various loans over the course of the last few years, but has a contract at the Bernabeu until 2023. He could be a strong option from the bench next season even if Perez and Zidane succeed in their apparent aim of luring Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain.
From Ramos to De Tomas, the remainder of Madrid’s current season is really already about next season, so on an individual level there is still plenty to play for – even if they are not trophies.
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