Real Madrid finished ’19-20 on a tear to win La Liga, then enjoyed a quiet offseason.*
Before digging into RM’s chances to win La Liga again and/or advance beyond the Champions League round of 16, let’s look at all they accomplished this offseason. And we’ll note here, and in every team preview, that the transfer window in Spain will not close until October 5, so no roster will be set in stone until a month from now.
*Unless you count the latest round of “news reports” regarding Zinedine Zidane’s desire to discard Gareth Bale, there was very little activity around the Santiago Bernabéu. That’s probably a good thing, though, as Barcelona fans can attest.
The long list of loanees is paying dividends
We wrote back in April about how advantageous it was for Real Madrid to have so many well-regarded players out on loan. Their list included Achraf Hakimi (Borussia Dortmund), Martin Odegaard (Real Sociedad), Dani Ceballos (Arsenal), Óscar Rodríguez (Leganés) and Sergio Reguilón (Sevilla), to name a few.
There were two possibilities with most of those players. They were going to either A) return to the Spanish capital and potentially make major contributions (like Odegaard) or B) end their loan spells for big sums of money for their parent club. In the case of Hakimi, who joined Inter Milan for €40M ($47.5M) and Rodríguez, who moved to Sevilla for €15M ($17.8M), Los Blancos cashed in. Rumors are swirling around Reguilón, too, so RM might be receiving another €20M ($23.8M) or so for the promising left back before the transfer window closes.
Can Odegaard be a difference-maker?
The addition of 21-year-old Odegaard, who joins a solid midfield, could be a big boost to Zidane’s team. It’s also an example that not everyone in the “cantera” pipeline will just be sold off. With Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Fede Valverde and Casemiro already in place, minutes will not be guaranteed for the Norwegian. He should find a way to feature in Zidane’s XI, though. He’ll bring much-needed creativity (he tallied six assists for Real Sociedad last season) for a team that was far too dependent on Karim Benzema in ’19-20.
Had Odegaard (market value of $49.5M, per Transfermarkt) joined Real Madrid via transfer, he’d be getting discussed as one of the biggest acquisitions (non-Chelsea division) of the offseason. Instead, his move has flown under the radar, and it will be fascinating to see whether he’s able to displace one of the established veterans — Kroos is 30 and Modric is 35.
My guess is Odegaard will go through something similar to what happened with Ferland Mendy/Marcelo a year ago, splitting time initially with his more seasoned counterpart before becoming a regular by the end of the season. I’m confident not only because of my faith in Odegaard himself, though. I also expect a significant role for him because Zidane has made clear that no matter how gifted, or highly-regarded, a player is – there’s not many places Hakimi wouldn’t start — he’ll move them if he doesn’t feel they have a place in his lineup.
Should we expect a letdown from the defense?
No one was expecting Real Madrid to field Europe’s best back line a year ago. They arguably boasted just that, though, with Thibaut Courtois dominant behind a rock-solid back four of left back Mendy, centerbacks Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos and right back Dani Carvajal. While Ramos, 34, has to start declining soon (doesn’t he??), Mendy (25), Varane (27) and Carvajal (28) are in their prime. Despite how bad Varane and Co. looked without Ramos vs. Manchester City in leg 2 of the Champions League round of 16, the only way this defense regresses significantly is if Ramos misses a lot of games due to injury, or God forbid, suspension.
Can the offense improve enough to challenge for another Champions League trophy?
If the defense is anywhere close to as good as it was a year ago, a La Liga title is probably within reach, even if the firepower is once again lacking. But a deep UCL run seems distinctly unlikely without major improvement in the final third.
The biggest question is who steps up to complement Benzema. Regardless of his age, his team was way too reliant on him a year ago. He had a hand in 29 (21 goals and eight assists) of his team’s 70 goals in La Liga — that’s over 41% of the offense!! Even Lionel Messi, who produced 46 total goals (25 goals and 21 assists) out of Barcelona’s 86 in ’19-20, thinks that’s a bit unbalanced. Throw in Benzema’s age (he’s 32) and there is serious cause for concern about where the goals are going to come from.
There are, however, a slew of pretty enviable options. While it’s unclear what kind of physical shape Eden Hazard is in, he would obviously change the equation if he’s anywhere near the player he was for Chelsea.
Regardless of Hazard’s status — not to dismiss it — between Rodrygo, Vinicius, Marco Asensio, Isco and Odegaard, this team should be potent enough to make a deep Champions League run. My personal favorite to step up alongside Benzema and/or Hazard is Asensio, who produced three goals and an assist in just over 300 minutes of La Liga action last year. I see double-digit goals for the Spaniard in a big bounce-back season from his injury-derailed ’19-20 campaign.
The bottom line
The race with Barcelona will be tight, but Real Madrid feels like a much safer bet considering all the variables at the Camp Nou. At -134, the payout won’t be massive, but that’s still a solid move.
And at +1,000 to win the Champions League – behind Bayern Munich, Man City, PSG and Liverpool — this team is very much worth a flier right now.