Ancelotti commenced the new season with Bale and Hazard flanking Benzema. And it worked. Both seemed to be enjoying themselves out on the pitch and looked in good physical shape. Hazard was visibly slimmer than in previous pre-seasons. If he can continue to get the best out of both of them, Ancelotti will have done a great service to Madrid. After the hour mark, and with the game practically resolved, he brought on Rodrygo and Vinicius and right at the very end, Asensio, who played in an advanced, midfield role. Three young players out of the many promising signings made over the past few seasons but who are behind Bale and Hazard in the pecking order. They haven’t reached the levels expected of them. And time continues to march on.
Madrid's young guns
But they are by no means an exception, the same thing has happened with everyone else. Valverde started off well, but has never made it past being a useful substitute. Ceballos is pushing for a place, but I can’t see him dislodging anyone in Madrid’s midfield - at the moment, he has impressed more with the national team than with his club. Kubo is a luxury player who has gone out on loan again. A price tag has already been slapped on Ødegaard but at least his sale will bring in some cash. And completing the list are Lunin, Odriozola, Militão (the one who has convinced the most - at least at the end of last season), Vallejo, Jovic and Brahim, the latter, out on loan again for the next seasons at AC Milan.
Old guard can't be budged
On paper, it difficult to see any of them securing a regular place in the Madrid starting line-up. Militão is being kept out by Alaba, who will be one of the first-choice centre-backs once Mendy returns. The midfield trio Modric-Casemiro-Kroos will remain untouched. Up front, the Bale-Benzema-Hazard attack is looking hopeful. Out of those challenging for a place, Asensio has looked middle-of-the-road, Rodrygo too shy and Vinicius, too hectic which systematically reduces Madrid’s attack to just Benzema. The rejuvenation plan was a good idea at the time - Madrid were eager to build a talented, young team but the youngsters coming through have not progressed enough. Maybe they were simply not quite as good as we thought, or the old guard is resisting better than we expected.