Real Madrid: five players, five decisions for Ancelotti
Returning Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti must decide what he plans to do with several players he has worked with in the first week of pre-season.
Carlo Ancelotti has completed the first week of pre-season in his second spell as Real Madrid head coach. The Italian has only been able to work with 13 first-team players - Andriy Lunin, Álvaro Odriozola, Dani Carvajal, Lucas Vázquez, Nacho, Ferland Mendy, Marcelo, Martin Odegaard, Isco, Brahim Díaz, Rodrygo Goes, Mariano Díaz and Luka Jovic - plus Castilla keeper Diego Altube, who is poised to join Fuenlabrada on a year-long loan. In the case of several of those senior-squad members, Ancelotti must decide what he plans to do with them.
When it comes to the Ukrainian, the question is clear: does Ancelotti intend on handing him the gloves in the Copa del Rey, or not even that? The coach’s past at Madrid offers hope to Lunin. In 2014/15, Ancelotti gave the Copa to Keylor Navas, while Casillas played in all other competitions. What’s more, Navas also got a few starts in LaLiga to enable him to keep his eye in. Perhaps a similar arrangement could work for Lunin, although at 22 he’ll be starting to put his development at risk if he continues to miss out on opportunities to play regularly.
The right-back has no intention of leaving Real Madrid. He’s on a salary of around 3.5m euros a year that he’ll struggle to get elsewhere. In 2019/20, he stuck about despite knowing he wasn’t in Zinedine Zidane’s plans, before going out on loan to Bayern midway through the campaign and also struggling to get regular game time in Germany. Much the same then happened last term: he was again a fringe figure at Madrid, only playing regularly when Los Blancos were hit by a spate of injuries in defence. Odriozola has found himself down the pecking order behind Dani Carvajal and winger Lucas Vázquez, who has impressed when operating at full-back, but it remains to be seen whether Ancelotti sees things differently and believes he can get more out of the former Real Sociedad man.
Odegaard is a complicated case. The club have placed great faith in the player and have declared him untransferrable, but he has little patience when he’s not getting regular action. That was evident last season, when Zidane gave him few opportunities and the midfielder hotfooted it to Arsenal in January. Curiously, the raft of injuries Madrid suffered in the second half of the season would have cleared his way to the team, who knows whether permanently or not. Odegaard returns to a Madrid whose ageing midfield is a year older, but also has unexpected reinforcements such as Dani Ceballos and, in Fede Valverde, a player pushing hard for a regular place in the XI. Ancelotti will likely have to show a real deftness of touch in his handling of the Norwegian.
Unlike last year, when his summer holidays had a clear impact on his physique, Isco has returned for pre-season in great shape, and he knows he has an opportunity under Ancelotti. The Italian knows him from his first stint in the Bernabéu dugout and was able to get something approaching top form out of the Andalusian. Isco asked to leave in January to get game time and improve his chances of going to Euro 2020, but Madrid said no and he knows he’ll struggle to find a club this summer: he’s not exactly been inundated with offers, and his 15m-euro annual salary is a stumbling block to a move. He has a year left on his Madrid contract and if he has a good season, he’ll be well placed to negotiate a free transfer and net a tidy signing-on fee in the process. But first he must convince Ancelotti, who appears ready to be won over.
It all depends on whether or not Kylian Mbappé arrives from Paris Saint-Germain. If he does, the attack will be taken up by Mbappé, Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale, and with Vinicius Júnior and Marco Asensio also in contention. There would be very little room left for Jovic. If Madrid don’t sign Mbappé, the Serb will again serve as understudy to Benzema, a role in which he didn’t impress Zidane. In a similar situation is Mariano, who is on big money at Madrid - 4.5m euros net a year - and has refused to leave for two straight summers. If they remain at the club, they’ll battle it out for the minutes available when Ancelotti wants to rest Benzema.
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