Real Madrid: Where LaLiga club have gone wrong this pre-season
Real Madrid return from their International Champions Cup campaign fresh from derby humiliation, and with plenty more questions than answers.
Real Madrid's International Champions Cup campaign, which Los Blancos rounded off with a humiliating, 7-3 thrashing by city rivals Atlético Madrid, has left Zinedine Zidane's men with many more questions than answers as they return to Spain. Passive displays; new signings that have underwhelmed; injury after injury; the same old problems with Marcelo and Toni Kroos; the frankly surreal Gareth Bale saga... It has not been a successful summer so far, it is fair to say.
Zidane's take on Madrid's derby hammering was that his side showed a lack of intensity in the initial stages of the game. It's an analysis that could equally be applied to their other two ICC clashes. After all, all three of Los Blancos' opponents found the net inside the opening quarter of an hour: Corentin Tolisso put Bayern Munich ahead in the 15th minute, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did likewise for Arsenal with just 10 on the clock, and Diego Costa (1') and Joao Félix (8') both took advantage of a snoozing Madrid to score even earlier than that for Atlético. On top of Madrid's repeated concession of early strikes, there is the small matter of a total goals-against column which is truly frightening: 12 in three friendlies. And let's be honest: Atleti could easily have hit 10 in New Jersey.
Ask Real Madrid, and they'll tell you that this summer has brought a revolution at the Bernabéu. No fewer than five new recruits have arrived, at an overall cost of 298 million euros, with every one of these signings sealed before the team's pre-season training camp in Canada had begun. The addition of Eden Hazard aside, however, Zidane's starting line-ups continue to look awfully like those that so comprehensively stank the place out last season. Ferland Mendy and Luka Jovic cost 108 million euros between them and, thus far, have not brought anything different to the side. The only genuinely positive signs have come from Rodrygo Goes and Takefusa Kubo. Two 18-year-old lads.
Nothing is going Jovic's way. The 21-year-old striker was signed for 60 million euros as Karim Benzema's long-term replacement, but things have turned out badly for him in each of Madrid's three friendlies. Against Bayern, he barely got a kick - let alone a shot on goal - in the 45 minutes that he played; against Arsenal, he was sacrificed after just 15 minutes as Zidane sought to rebuild his defence in the wake of Nacho Fernández's red card; and against Atlético, he lasted a little under half an hour before a collision with goalkeeper Jan Oblak forced him off with a knock. It's been one disappointment after another for the Serb.
Marcelo, Kroos up to their usual tricks
While Madrid's new signings are yet to provide the breath of fresh air that the club had hoped for, the established figures who came away from last season under something of a cloud appear not to have seen the error of their ways. In the defeat to Bayern, Marcelo produced a defensive recovery that quickly went viral; he looked like a player transformed. That impression didn't last long, though. Against Atlético, his defending was as laissez-faire as ever, and that's being kind to the Brazilian. His left flank was once more an invitation to Madrid's opponents to make hay, as was the central-midfield area occupied by Toni Kroos. With Casemiro yet to return, the German has filled in at the base of the midfield throughout Madrid's US tour, and has played with an ill-concealed idleness, despite recently penning extended terms with Los Merengues - or, just maybe, precisely because of that.
Another spate of injuries
Jovic's ankle injury against Atleti makes it four Real Madrid players now in the sick bay, and it's only been 18 days since their pre-season preparations began. Brahim Díaz still has another week to go before he returns from a hamstring strain picked up on day two of the training camp in Montreal; Marco Asensio is to miss the whole season after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus in his left knee against Arsenal; and Mendy is out for three to four weeks with a thigh injury suffered in the same game. In terms of injuries, it was one thing after another for Madrid last season. 2019/20 hasn't started off any better.
Question marks over physical shape
Having left behind the 'Pintus method', Madrid now find themselves adapting to the new system brought in by the freshly recruited fitness coach Grégory Dupont. He arrives at the Bernabéu with the cachet of having fulfilled the role for France's World Cup-winning squad, and the club look to be pleased with his appointment... yet the team struggled horribly with the pace of Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette against Arsenal, while Atlético beasted them in every area of the pitch, particularly when it came to getting in behind Kroos, Marcelo and Álvaro Odriozola. With the new LaLiga campaign due to get underway in three weeks' time, the physical shortcomings that Madrid displayed are concerning.
Madrid's goalkeeping situation
Neither Thibaut Courtois - who declared himself "number one" in an interview in Belgium this week - nor Keylor Navas, who bade the Bernabéu farewell but is still there, have particularly caught the eye. Having previously said that the goalkeeping situation "will be clear" this season, Zidane sidestepped the issue when asked about it in New Jersey. Since arriving at Madrid's training camp in Canada, Navas has cut a disgruntled figure; he may have opted to stay, but he doesn't like his theoretical status as understudy one little bit. Madrid, meanwhile, had planned to have the Costa Rican off their books by now. He remains at the Bernabéu, however, and that leaves Andriy Lunin in a tricky situation. The Ukrainian is going to have to seek out a loan move that he hadn't been expecting to make.
Bale: the never-ending story
The Bale saga pretty much sums up Madrid's untidy pre-season. It has been nothing short of a soap opera ever since he decided not to play in Houston because he believed he was off to China imminently. He wasn't, it turned out, and he ended up playing, and even scoring, against Arsenal. Right before the derby, it then emerged that the transfer was back on, yet despite the fact that Madrid were 6-1 down, Zidane still risked the Welshman suffering an injury - and, in the process, scuppering the deal - by bringing him on as a substitute. Zidane is clearly tired of Bale and equally fed up of being asked about the matter, which has dogged Madrid's US tour. With the team now back in Spain, it remains unresolved, and has added a touch of the surreal to a pre-season that is proving far from successful.