Real Madrid: Seven players with a point to prove in 2020
Bale, Marcelo, James... Several members of Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid squad will be looking to get back on track in the new calendar year.
This season is on its way to becoming an 'annus horribilis' for Marcelo, at least as far as injuries are concerned. The calf strain he suffered in early December was his fourth problem already in an unusually injury-prone campaign; he simply hasn't been available often enough to make his mark. However, his presence in the world teams of the decade compiled by France Football and several other publications is a reminder that this is a player who should not be written off too soon.
Not least because year in, year out, either Madrid struggle in their attempts to provide the left-back with competition (Theo Hernández, Fábio Coentrao, Ferland Mendy) or Lady Luck smiles on the Brazilian, who, for example, saw Sergio Reguilón, the only one to rise to the challenge of displacing him, loaned to Sevilla in the summer.
After Napoli and Atlético Madrid's attempts to sign James Rodríguez this summer, the Colombian finally returned to the Bernabéu from his loan spell at Bayern Munich, much to the delight of many Madridistas.
But after an encouraging start to the campaign, he has disappointed. Injuries have taken a particular toll on a player who, as things stand, has been only the 21st-most used member of Zinedine Zidane's squad this season, and has been pushed down the pecking order by Rodrygo Goes. James hasn't played at all for Madrid since 22 October, firstly because of a trip to Colombia for the birth of his child, and secondly because of a knee problem picked up on international duty.
A forgotten man under former head coach Santiago Solari, Isco has begun to look a little more like his old self under Zidane of late, earning praise for his performance as a false nine in Real Madrid's 2-1 LaLiga victory at Alavés at the end of November.
By playing Isco in the 4-4-2 that brought Champions League glory in Cardiff in 2017, Zidane is starting to draw performances from the Spaniard once more; he's far more at home in the formation than in a 4-3-3. Having started in Brugge, at Mestalla and in the Clásico, Isco closed out 2019 on a high note that seemed scarcely conceivable for most of what was otherwise a calendar year to forget.
Gareth Bale had a turbulent 2019. He failed to fill the goal-scoring void left by Cristiano Ronaldo, suffered injuries, almost departed in the summer and, after finally staying, courted controversy with his surprise trip to London and THAT incident involving the "Wales, golf, Madrid" flag. This led him to receive deafening jeers from the Bernabéu crowd in November's win over Real Sociedad.
It remains to be seen whether Bale turns over a new leaf in 2020. Zidane was eager for him to leave in the close season, but club president Florentino Pérez was unwilling to sanction his departure for China on a free. Now, a move to the Chinese Super League has become even trickier: to go with the country's prohibitive 100% tax on transfer fees, a restrictive salary cap has also been imposed.
Signed for 60m euros in the summer, Luka Jovic has majorly underwhelmed at the Bernabéu. In just 423 minutes of Real Madrid game time, the Serb has scored only once and has failed to even get near first-choice centre-forward Karim Benzema. According to the specialist website Transfermarkt.com, Jovic's market worth has dropped by 20m in the six months that he has been at Madrid.
Zidane clearly isn't at all convinced by Álvaro Odriozola, who has been relegated to bit-part status in the wake of poor performances such as his nightmare evening at Son Moix in October, when he was sent off in a 1-0 defeat to Real Mallorca.
Odriozola's struggles are in stark contrast to the sterling form being shown by Achraf Hakimi on loan at Borussia Dortmund, where the Moroccan has blossomed into one of the the most complete and most effective full-backs in the Bundesliga. And unlike the Madrid youth product, Odriozola cost 40m euros - a fact that makes a comparison of the two all the more damning for the Basque.
Nacho Fernández has dropped down the defensive pecking order at Real Madrid: he's now fourth choice at centre-back. The club youth product had attractive offers from Sevilla and sides in Serie A in the summer, but opted to stay on at the Bernabéu. However, he has been given precious little game time by Zidane, a fringe status not helped by a two-month absence brought about by a knee injury suffered in October.
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