Key decisions for Real Madrid: Modric, Benzema, Carvajal, Mendy...
Real Madrid’s adverse run of form has heightened the sense of urgency at the club when it comes to freshening up certain areas of the team.
Real Madrid’s poor run of form - Los Blancos have lost two of their last three games, most recently to arch rivals Barcelona - has left the club as acutely aware as ever of the need for fresh blood in three key areas of the pitch: full-back, central midfield and centre-forward.
In the latter two positions, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema are both out of contract in the summer. When it comes to extending their deals, Madrid’s plan remains the same: the veterans have earned the right to decide whether they want another 12 months at the Bernabéu. However, it has never been clearer to club chiefs that the pair are ageing - particularly the Croat. At full-back, meanwhile, Madrid have decisions to make that include choosing a successor to Dani Carvajal, another player who has been a hugely influential figure for the Spanish and European champions for a number of years.
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Look at Benzema’s goal return this season, and you could be forgiven for thinking that not too much is wrong: he has 12 in 19 games in all competitions. Above and beyond his scoring stats, however, the 35-year-old’s regular injury absences have prompted suggestions that he’s now in terminal physical decline. And, while Benzema’s goal figures this term have been more than adequate, his average of one every 134 minutes pales in comparison to last season, when he netted every 70 minutes on the way to racking up 44 in 46 games. What’s more, he supplied 15 assists in 2021/22; this year, he has just one to his name. Benzema’s sparkling form last season deservedly earned him the Ballon d’Or; right now, we’re not seeing the same player.
In his most recent press conference, Benzema revealed that Madrid still haven’t got in touch with him to discuss a new contract. As is the case of the six other players who are out of contract at the Bernabéu in the summer, the club are waiting until the end of the season to sort out the striker’s future. Sealing a new deal shouldn’t be a problem, but Madrid are keenly aware of the need to bring in another centre-forward capable of leading the line for the years to come. Although they missed out on Erling Braut Haaland in 2022, they’re set to get another chance to sign him in 2024 - so it seems likely that they’ll hold off until then before bringing in a successor to Benzema. Not least because there’s no-one on the market right now who’s capable of offering more than him.
Modric’s body needs to be managed
Modric, a player who has won the Ballon d’Or and given so much to Madrid, is fully expected to rediscover his best form. However, the 37-year-old’s game time is going to have to be managed. Madrid need to keep him fresh for the big occasions. Although a Copa del Rey clash with Villarreal surely counts as one, the midfielder simply doesn’t have enough in the tank right now, so he’s been rested for Thursday night’s last-16 tie at the Estadio de la Cerámica. He’s paying the price for his exertions at the World Cup.
Key to Madrid’s Modric strategy is bringing in fresh legs in the summer, and allowing him to take a step back. Their priority target is clear: Borussia Dortmund and England’s Jude Bellingham. The 19-year-old, who is under contract until 2025, is due to sit down with Dortmund soon to let club bosses know whether he wants to leave at the end of the season. If Bellingham goes, the Germans want an initial €100m for the player, plus a series of add-ons that could take the deal to around €140m. The midfielder would rather join Madrid than go to a Premier League club. Los Blancos have already sounded out his camp, but are yet to negotiate with Dortmund. If he moves to the Spanish capital, Madrid will have their midfield for the next two or three years: Bellingham, Aurélien Tchouaméni and Toni Kroos.
Problems at both right and left-back
At full-back, Madrid are preparing to make changes on both flanks. At right-back, Carvajal is under contract until 2025, but he hasn’t been the same player since he began suffering regular injuries a couple of seasons ago. Los Blancos must decide whether to place their faith in academy prospect Vinícius Tobías, 18, or look at the options available on the market. Lucas Vázquez appears unlikely to be given the position full-time; the converted winger never lets anyone down, but displays clear shortcomings in a position that requires a specific skillset.
At left-back, the situation is even more urgent. Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti remains unconvinced by Ferland Mendy, who is in theory the club’s first choice in the position (at least, he was during last season’s double-winning campaign). Madrid are thought to have listened to offers for Mendy last summer. There are options if the Frenchman is absent, such as Nacho Fernández, David Alaba and Antonio Rüdiger - but none of them is an out-and-out left-back. The player Ancelotti most likes for the role is Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich’s 22-year-old Canada international. Madrid’s plan was to go after Davies in 2024, when he’ll only have a year left on his Bayern deal, but the club could now move for him ahead of schedule.
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