Victory over Espanyol confirmed Real Madrid as 2021/22 La Liga champions with Carlo Ancelotti’s securing top spot four games from the end of the season. This was reflective of the dominance they have enjoyed in the Spanish top flight. Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, nor anyone else, could keep up with Los Blancos.
However, this summer transfer window will be a pivotal one at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid are in the midst of a generational transition and while veterans like Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric continue to perform at the highest level, they cannot count on them to do this for ever.
Kylian Mbappe was widely expected to be on his way to the Spanish capital from Paris Saint-Germain, but Real Madrid ultimately whiffed on securing the Frenchman. Now Los Blancos must decide between appeasing short-term desires and spending big to make up for the failed Mbappe pursuit, or instead strengthen other areas with less flashy additions.
Los Blancos also have to make a decision on a number of their current squad members. Who will be out of contract, who should they keep and who should they sell? And where are the gaps in their team?
Out of contract
At 36 years old, Luka Modric should be fading as a physical force, but the Croatian has never been more important to Real Madrid. Indeed, he has been a driving force behind Los Blancos in La Liga and the Champions League this season, showing the energy and mobility of a player many years his junior.
However, Modric’s current contract will expire this summer. Many believe the midfielder will sign an extension, but that has yet to happen. Real Madrid can’t afford to let Modric leave even if his advancing years means they must devise a succession plan for one of their most important players.
😍 Poetry in motion.
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden)
Signed to be Real Madrid’s next great playmaker nine years ago, Isco has been a peripheral figure for the last few seasons. Ancelotti’s return to the Santiago Bernabeu raised the possibility that the 30-year-old could enjoy a career renaissance, but that hasn’t materialised – Isco has started just three La Liga matches this season.
Isco’s individual talent cannot be doubted. His fitness, however, is more of a concern. The playmaker has recently been linked with a move to Serie A, but he needs a club that will build around him. It’s time for Isco to move on from Real Madrid.
In many ways, Gareth Bale should be considered a Real Madrid legend. The Welshman has won countless trophies during his time in the Spanish capital, but has been painted as a villain by a hostile local media keen to highlight his lack of commitment. It’s true Bale hasn’t helped himself at times with some of his comments and actions.
Gareth Bale has been linked to MLS. Would he instantly become the best player? 🤔
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC)
However, the 32-year-old still has plenty to offer, as demonstrated by his recent performances for Wales, and a return to the Premier League could be on the cards. Last season’s loan stint at Tottenham Hotspur did little for Bale, so it’s not entirely clear where the Welsh winger will end up after the end of his contract this summer.
As the longest-serving member of the current Real Madrid squad, Marcelo is a stalwart at the Santiago Bernabeu. He has won six La Liga titles, four Champions League and countless more trophies in 15 years at the capital club, but he might finally depart this summer when his contract expires.
Marcelo has started just five La Liga matches this season with Ferland Mendy and even Nacho Fernandez ahead of the 33-year-old in the left back pecking order. It’s not out of the question that Real Madrid will offer Marcelo a short extension to keep him around as an important dressing room figure.
42 goals in 42 games has already made this season the most prolific of Karim Benzema’s career with the Frenchman at the peak of his powers. Much like Modric, the 34-year-old is only getting better with age. He’s not just a goalscorer, but a conductor of everything that makes Real Madrid so dangerous as an attacking outfit.
At this moment in time, Benzema is the most complete centre forward in the European game. He has dragged Real Madrid through countless games this season, including Champions League ties against Chelsea and PSG, and is a force of nature. It’s therefore unsurprising that Real Madrid recently tied Benzema down until 2023.
Karim Benzema’s Real Madrid career by numbers:
◉ 601 games
◉ 321 goals
🏆 4x LaLiga
🏆 4x UCL
🏆 4x Club World Cup
🏆 4x Super Cup
🏆 3x Supercopa
🏆 2x Copa del Rey
And he could add another UCL next month. 😉
— Squawka (@Squawka)
Not so long ago, Vinicius Junior was widely seen as a show pony. The young Brazilian’s talent wasn’t in any doubt, but he frequently lacked a final product. This led to Benzema being caught telling Mendy not to pass to Vinicius at half time of a Champions League match against Borussia Monchengladbach last season.
Now, though, Vinicius is one of the sharpest wide men around, registering 18 goals and 15 assists in all competitions for Real Madrid this season. Ironically, Vinicius has now forged an understanding with Benzema, giving the French striker a partner in quick transition. The improvement in his productivity has been remarkable.
Vinicius Jr. ended Fernandinho and he didn’t even touch the ball. ☠️
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo)
Thibaut Courtois’ initial struggles as a Real Madrid player now seem a long time ago. The Belgian international has masked a lot of his team’s defensive deficiencies this season, pulling off countless reflex saves over the course of the La Liga title-winning campaign. Courtois more than earned his medal.
While Courtois is somewhat vulnerable with the ball at his feet, he remains one of the best shot-stoppers in the game. Real Madrid don’t need him to pass out from the back too often. Instead, Courtois has Alaba in front of him to do that. He is charged with making saves and he does that very well.
Signed from Bayern Munich 2014, Toni Kroos has gone on to become a Real Madrid legend. The German is one of the best central midfielders of his generation and is exceptional at controlling a match from the centre of the pitch. This is something he’s still capable of even as he moves into the twilight of his career at 32.
In the wrong position, Kroos can be exposed. He doesn’t have the natural speed or defensive instincts to play as a midfield anchor, but in a midfield three with protection behind him, Kroos can still pull the strings. Real Madrid can’t play him in every match, but Ancelotti will want him around for next season.
There aren’t many midfield anchors as effective as Casemiro. The Brazilian has become part of the furniture at the Santiago Bernabeu over the last nine years with his pitch coverage and defensive instincts providing a platform for attack-minded teammates in more advanced positions.
However, Casemiro isn’t just a midfield destroyer. Yes, this is a large part of his responsibility for Real Madrid, but the 30-year-old also starts attacking moves and even carries a goal threat of his own, particularly from set pieces. Casemiro is a big reason why Los Blancos have enjoyed such success in recent times.
At the time, it appeared Real Madrid had sanctioned the signing of Eduardo Camavinga as a way to get back at PSG for not allowing Mbappe to leave. Camavinga had been on PSG’s radar, but the Spanish side made a move late in the transfer window last summer, landing one of the highest-rated young midfielders in Europe.
Camavinga ➡️ Asensio 🔥
Madrid are ROLLING to the title!
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC)
Camavinga has lived up to his billing. The teenager has produced a number of impressive performances for his new team and in a number of different roles. Ancelotti has used Camavinga in a deep-lying position, but also as a deputy for Modric further forward. He has a bright future at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Last season, there was speculation about Eder Militao’s future as a Real Madrid player with some even suggesting he could be moved on. Indeed, the Brazilian struggled to find his feet in the Spanish capital, but the departure of Sergio Ramos last summer has liberated the centre back. He now more than looks the part.
Militao has started 31 La Liga matches this season and has grown into his role as Real Madrid’s dominant centre back. The 24-year-old still has his flaws and needs protection in front of him, but Ancelotti has emboldened the Brazilian international and managed to get the best out of a previously maligned player.
Last summer’s signing of David Alaba as a free agent looked to be shrewd business at the time and that certainly appears to be the case now. The Austrian has been a key figure for Real Madrid this season, starting 30 La Liga games for his new club and proving himself important to the way Ancelotti’s team play out from the back.
David Alaba brought out the chair 😆
— B/R Football (@brfootball)
Alaba is comfortable on the ball and allows Real Madrid to construct moves from deep. His versatility is also a valuable quality, giving Ancelotti a depth option at left back and in central midfield where Alaba frequently plays for his national team. The 29-year-old will feel he move a good move in swapping Bavaria for Madrid.
While Ancelotti has favoured the midfield trio of Casemiro, Kroos and Modric this season, Fede Valverde has still managed to contribute as a very important member of the Real Madrid squad. The Uruguayan offers drive and mobility through the centre of the pitch and has emerged as a key part of Los Blancos’ young core.
Valverde has been used on the right side of the front three at times this season to make use of his high-pressing ability. Indeed, the 23-year-old forces opponents into mistakes and can drift inside to pack the middle of the pitch – Real Madrid used this strategy against Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-final.
Brought in by Zinedine Zidane, Mendy has kept his place as Real Madrid’s first-choice left back under Ancelotti. The Frenchman offers a lot in terms of mobility and is keen to break into the attacking third where he can help in and around the penalty box. Mendy is the quintessential modern full back.
Some recent reports claim Real Madrid are open to selling Mendy this summer with muscle injuries something of an issue for the 26-year-old, but the French international is under contract until 2025. Even if Ancelotti wants an upgrade, left back won’t be a priority for Real Madrid in the next window.
Vinicius certainly isn’t the only electrifying Brazilian winger on Real Madrid’s books right now. Rodrygo is also highly-rated at the Santiago Bernabeu and has made himself Ancelotti’s favoured option on the right side of his front three this season, making no fewer than 42 appearances for Los Blancos.
Rodrygo gets a brace and Real Madrid have all but won the La Liga title 🙌
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC)
At 21, Rodrygo is still refining his game. He is raw and has yet to take the leap forward that Vinicius did last year, but the potential is clear for all to see. Rodrygo is exceptionally technical on the ball, can beat a man in the dribble and carries a goal threat. He is also comfortable on both wings.
Mariano Diaz’s Real Madrid has meandered along a confusing path to date. The striker left the club in 2017 to sign for Lyon and enjoyed a very successful season in France, scoring 18 goals in 34 Ligue 1 appearances. This led to Real Madrid re-signing Mariano for the 2018/19 season when he was a peripheral figure once again.
Mariano has only made seven appearances for Real Madrid in the league this season, but is a good depth option off the bench. If Ancelotti can convince the 28-year-old to continue performing this role, Real Madrid are still better off with Mariano than without him. The Dominican offers something.
Nacho Fernandez might not be the most glamorous player at Real Madrid, but he is undeniably useful. The 32-year-old has started 13 games in La Liga for Ancelotti’s team so far this season and has been deployed in every position across the defensive line. He is Real Madrid’s John O’Shea.
Next season might see Nacho’s game time limited with Real Madrid widely expected to sign Antonio Rudiger as a free agent from Chelsea this summer, but he is an experienced and dependable figure even if his lack of pace gives him some trouble when he is played in the full back positions.
The exit of Marcelo this summer would open up a spot at left back in the Real Madrid squad and Miguel Gutierrez would be best-placed to fill it. The 20-year-old has impressed in the handful of appearances he has made for Los Blancos, starting three La Liga games for Ancelotti’s team this season.
Real Madrid might not see Miguel as a first team figure, but he is good for the balance of the squad, especially taking into account the homegrown quotas all Champions League clubs must meet with their squad selections.
Real Madrid chased Eden Hazard for years before landing the Belgian in a €100m move from Chelsea in 2019. Hazard was signed to be the successor to Cristiano Ronaldo at the Santiago Bernabeu, but has been an expensive flop, making only a handful of appearances for the Spanish champions this season.]
Injuries have hindered Hazard in the Spanish capital, but Ancelotti has overlooked the 31-year-old even when he has been fit this season. The turn of pace and explosiveness has vanished from Hazard’s game. He is a shadow of his former self, but needs to find first team football again. A return to England could be on the cards.
However, it appears, as both the player and manager confirmed as much. Unless he recaptures his Premier League form, Hazard will be little more than a burned on the roster.
There is no doubting Marco Asensio’s talent. The 26-year-old burst on to the scene a number of years ago as one of the brightest young players in Europe and was expected to have a long and fruitful career at Real Madrid.
Since then, though, Asensio’s career has stagnated. He has still started 17 La Liga games this season, but at 26 this summer could be the perfect time for Real Madrid to offload the winger and reinvest the money in other areas of their squad. Arsenal and Manchester United have been linked with Asensio in the past.
Few right backs have reached the heights that Dani Carvajal has at Real Madrid. The 30-year-old has won countless titles and trophies during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu and remains a first team player for Los Blancos now. However, his fading physicality means Ancelotti has a decision to make this summer.
Carvajal’s injury record has been a problem for the last two seasons. Even when he does play, the Spanish international no longer has the pace to cover as much ground as he used to. All this makes Real Madrid’s decision to sell Achraf Hakimi to Inter two years ago all the more perplexing. They might need a new right back soon, with Carvajal slowing as he ages.
There was a time when Dani Ceballos was viewed as one of the brightest young prospects in the Spanish game. He was a standout performer for Spain as they won the 2017 European Under-21 Championships and earned himself a transfer to Real Madrid from Real Betis soon after. Barcelona had also been interested.
Ceballos, however, has been mismanaged at the Santiago Bernabeu to the point that he has become a forgotten figure for Real Madrid. A loan spell at Arsenal saw the midfielder produce moments of brilliance, but consistent form evaded him. Now 25, Ceballos simply needs to find regular game time again.
Real Madrid parted with €65m to sign Luka Jovic from Eintracht Frankfurt three years ago in the belief that the Serbian would replace Benzema in the long-term. However, Jovic was never given the chance to prove himself in the Spanish capital and has struggled for opportunities ever since – he has yet to start a single La Liga game this season.
Jovic is still only 24, but needs first team football to get his career back on track. Even after Mbappe’s PSG stay, it’s likely Jovic’s minutes will be restricted even further next season, and Mbappe could eventually arrive at the Bernabeu in a few years yet, meaning Jovic will be blocked in the future as well. It’s time for all parties concerned to part ways rather than waste even more time together.
In terms of natural talent, Lucas Vazquez might not top any list of Real Madrid’s best players. However, the 30-year-old was one of Zidane’s favourites and has been used from time-to-time by Ancelotti this season. Vazquez’s pace makes him dangerous in wide areas and capable of playing as a winger or wing back.
Vazquez was linked with a move to the Premier League last summer, but was persuaded to stay in the Spanish capital. A year later, after failing to earn a consistent starting role, instead splitting time with a developing Rodrygo, this might be the right time for Vazquez to embrace a new challenge.
Courtois is such a dominating figure between the posts for Real Madrid that Andriy Lunin has barely had an opportunity to prove his worth with the Ukrainian’s sole appearance this season coming in the Copa del Rey. Los Blancos might feel they can sell on Lunin this summer without much impact on the balance and strength of the squad. A loan could also be an option for the 23-year-old.
Real Madrid had high hopes for Jesus Vallejo who was signed from Real Zaragoza in 2015 as one of the best young defenders in Spain. Since then, though, he has struggled to make much of an impact at the Santiago Bernabeu, farmed out on loan to Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolves and Granada in recent seasons. A permanent parting of ways might be best for all parties concerned.
Where are the gaps?
With Madrid missing out on Kyilan Mbappe, Los Blancos may look to identify another big-name target for the attack. However, there are few players even remotely on Mbappe’s level.
It’s possible that Real Madrid continue to test AC Milan’s resolve for 22-year-old Rafael Leao, who helped the Italian side to the Serie A crown, but at the moment Milan appears to be holding firm. The Madrid attack is already quite formidable, and the club could concede defeat and instead distribute that money towards strengthening other areas, such as the defence.
In that regard, Antonio Rudiger is also expected to arrive this summer. The German defender will form a centre back partnership with Alaba and give Ancelotti the opportunity to deploy a back three with Militao included. It’s even possible that Alaba could be moved over to left back and Militao and Rudiger used as centre backs together.
Right back could be an issue for Real Madrid with Carvajal’s form and injury record concerning. This could be exacerbated further if Vazquez leaves the Santiago Bernabeu this summer. If Real Madrid have any money left over after a possible big splash, this is the position they should prioritise.