With Cristiano Ronaldo joining Juventus in a 105-million-euro deal this week, Real Madrid have lost a player who has a better scoring record for Los Blancos than anyone else in the club's history: 450 goals in 438 games. The departure of a figure who has been the focal point of the side for almost a decade has left fans asking the club's president, Florentino Pérez, why he didn't make a greater financial effort to hold on to his star man. However, there are a few players in the squad who could well benefit from the void the striker leaves in the squad.
Gareth Bale is well-placed to be one of the chief beneficiaries of 'Crexit'; indeed, he could well be the man with the most to gain. Having arrived at Real for a then-world-record fee of 101 million euros in 2013, his continuous injury issues have seen his initial status as a certain starter dwindle, to the point that he was left on the bench for both of Los Merengues' last two Champions League final victories, against Juventus in 2017 and Liverpool in 2018.
Indeed, Bale seemed to open the door to a summer move after May's showpiece in Kiev, in which he came on to score two goals (including a spectacular overhead kick). "I have to sit down with my agent this summer," he told reporters. "I need to be playing week in, week out. It was disappointing not to start the final."
Now, however, the Welshman looks to have seen his opportunity to become a first-choice pick once more, with the aforementioned talks with his representative, Jonathan Barnett, seemingly shelved. Cristiano's absence potentially leaves the way clear for Bale to establish himself as the spearhead of Real's attack: not only in open play and as a target for dead-ball deliveries, but also when it comes to direct free-kick and penalty-taking duties...
For many, Marco Asensio is the ideal replacement for Cristiano. The quality that the young Spaniard boasts has seen him become a firm favourite of the Bernabéu crowd, but he is yet to nail down a starting spot in the first team, particularly when it comes to the Champions League: of the 12 games Real played in the competition last season, Asensio was in the line-up for just three. Having to compete with a nailed-on starter such as Cristiano has had a negative effect on the opportunities enjoyed by the forwards knocking on the door, chief among whom is Asensio.
In 2017/18, the 22-year-old featured 53 times in all competitions - making him the team's joint-highest appearance-maker alongside Lucas Vázquez - but was only the 13th-most used player in the squad in terms of minutes played. In other words, he was an important part of former head coach Zinedine Zidane's plans, but struggled to translate that into starts. Cristiano's move to Turin is likely to help his chances of claiming a regular berth in the XI.
Fielding the attacking trio of Karim Benzema, Bale and Cristiano or going with a four-man midfield was one of the chief selection dilemmas faced not only by Zidane, but also his predecessors Rafa Benítez and Carlo Ancelotti. Although the Frenchman placed almost unbreakable faith in the 'bbC' in the early period of his tenure, picking the three up front together in the 2016 Champions League final, Isco proved to 'Zizou' in the last two seasons that he was well worth a place in his line-up. The midfielder was in the team for the European Cup finals in both Cardiff and Kiev, in each instance getting the nod at the expense of Bale. With no Cristiano in the squad, there may well be room for both of them now.
During Zidane's Real Madrid reign, Lucas Vázquez was nothing less than a model squad player, snapping up any opportunities that came his way and never ever complaining or pulling a face, despite often meriting a more central role than he was given. Of the 53 games that he played last term, more than half were off the bench. Yet despite his exemplary attitude under Zidane, he will surely now feel that, having managed to supply 11 assists (more than any other member of the first-team group), win five penalties and chip in with eight goals in 2017/18, he has staked his claim to start more often next season.
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