REAL MADRID

Julen Lopetegui: 26 players and no 'big name' replacement

Four players have been brought into the Real Madrid squad for the new season but this summer's preparations are provoking more questions than answers.

Three days after boarding the plane for the United States, where Real Madrid will play a trio of games in the preparatory International Champions Cup, Julen Lopetegui can ponder his already oversized squad, one with no significant new faces. He has seen the arrivals of Lunin, Odriozola and Vinicius, as well as the return of Raúl de Tomás, which gives him 26 (not including Coentrao), one more than he can submit to LaLiga ahead of the new season. Decisions are still to be made by a new manager with plenty to prove, especially with the club's talisman for nearly a decade having moved on.

Preparing Real Madrid to catch Barcelona

So, this is the situation they find themselves in as those players involved in the World Cup begin to rejoin the group this week. And this is without the 'big names' that were expected to come in to strengthen a squad that, despite winning their third consecutive Champions League, finished last season 17 points adrift of Barcelona.

Filling the void that the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo leaves - a player who has averaged 50 goals over the past nine seasons - is a big ask, and many expected a large outlay from Florentino Pérez to make it more palatable. Between the posts, four goalkeepers are currently on the books, however there is a belief that the anticipated arrival Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois will see two of them playing their football elsewhere for the upcoming campaign, most likely Casilla and Luca Zidane.

Replacing Cristiano goals

The main question now is what reinforcements will come into the attacking line-up, with Neymar and Mbappé committing their short-term future, at least, to PSG. Lopetegui currently has three strikers in place: Benzema, Mayoral and De Tomás. Between the three of them they scored 43 goals during the 2017-18 season, one less than Cristiano (that comparison is unlikely to disappear any time soon) but alternatives the likes of Kane, Lewandowski, Icardi... are not easy to bring in. Instead, the manager will look to the attacking midfielders to improve not only their own return, but also to assist their strikers to significantly up their numbers in a formation that is more 'team' and less 'individual' profitability.

More questions than answers

Across the midfield their are several options to choose from and each of the players bringing their own distinct attributes that Lopetegui can use depending on the opposition and the situation. It's a pre-season that is proving to hold more questions than answers for Los Blancos...

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