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How to improve Real Madrid, featuring Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and David De Gea
Last Updated: 23/06/15 4:27pm
After a trophyless season for Real Madrid in 2014/15, the pressure is on new boss Rafael Benitez to improve their fortunes in the new campaign. Here, we look at five areas in need of attention…
Get the best out of Bale
One of Benitez’s first actions as Real Madrid boss was to fly to Cardiff to watch Gareth Bale’s match-winning performance for Wales against Belgium. The former Tottenham forward endured a difficult second season at the Bernabeu, but Benitez’s personal check augers well for his future. “I spoke to Rafa at the team hotel before the game, so I guess it was good to get a good win in front of the new boss,” said Bale.
Benitez is reportedly eager to build his side around Bale and he has the backing of Madrid president Florentino Perez, who is determined that the world record £86million signing will be a long-term success at the club.
So how can Benitez get the best out of Bale? Moving him into his natural position on the left flank and giving him greater licence to roam could be the answer. The 25-year-old often appears awkward and isolated on the right for Madrid, and a simple switch could help him rebuild his confidence and rediscover his best form.
Keep Ronaldo happy
While Bale requires special attention, it is perhaps even more important that Benitez gets Ronaldo on side. A recent poll by Spanish newspaper AS revealed 50 per cent of Madrid fans would sell the 30-year-old for between 100 and 150million euros this summer, but suggestions he is on the decline are well wide of the mark.
Ronaldo scored 61 goals in 2014/15, making it the most prolific campaign of his career, and his last three games for club and country have yielded three consecutive hat-tricks.
Ronaldo is yet to comment on Benitez’s appointment, but his public backing of Carlo Ancelotti before his departure suggests he will not be overly enthused by the managerial change. The former Manchester United man is irreplaceable and absolutely fundamental to Madrid’s success, so Benitez must win his support.
As Ronaldo enters his 30s, however, he could become better suited to playing as an out-and-out striker. He is already playing a more advanced role than in previous years, and moving Bale into his left-wing spot and pushing Ronaldo into the centre next season could be beneficial for both players.
Get De Gea
There are also pressing concerns at the other end of the pitch. Real Madrid’s pursuit of Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea could run long into the summer, but it is imperative they get the deal over the line.
In 2011, Iker Casillas described De Gea as “the future”, and now the time has finally come for the 24-year-old to take over from the man 10 years his senior. De Gea’s outstanding performances for United have earned him a place in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in two of the last three seasons, and he is reportedly eager to return to his hometown having come through the youth ranks at Atletico.
De Gea only has one year left to run on his contract at United, and it seems a matter of when, rather than if, Madrid get their man. Casillas has made over 700 appearances for Madrid since his debut in 1999, but after another season punctuated by costly errors, it is time for the legendary shot-stopper to step aside for a younger upgrade.
Strengthen central midfield
Real Madrid’s star-studded squad does not require a major overhaul. Benitez has vowed to bring in more new faces, but the Spaniard admitted it would be "enormously difficult" to improve on their current squad. "This team has won it all and has proved the level it has," he added.
Nevertheless, central midfield is another area which could be strengthened. With Sami Khedira gone and Asier Illarramendi and Lucas Silva out of favour, more support for the likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric is required.
Zinedine Zidane has confirmed Madrid’s interest in Juventus star Paul Pogba, but the French international is in high-demand and would command a huge transfer fee – although Perez is hardly averse to splashing the cash.
Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan could be an alternative option. The 24-year-old is set to leave the Westfalenstadion this summer and he would add energy and discipline to Madrid’s midfield. He is also a more defensive-minded player than Pogba, which is what Madrid really need.
Argentina international Lucas Biglia has also been linked with Los Blancos. The Lazio man is an accomplished defensive midfielder but turns 30 in January and lacks Champions League experience. Pogba's Juventus team-mate Arturo Vidal might be more suitable. The Chilean has been making headlines for the wrong reasons following a car crash during the Copa America - but the 28-year-old is an excellent all-rounder who could slot straight in.
Build a big game mentality
Madrid need to find a cure for their big game ills. In nine fixtures against top four rivals Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Valencia last season, Madrid only won once and lost six times.
It is important to remember that the gap between Madrid and champions Barca was just two points, so an improvement against top opposition could make a big difference in 2015/16 as they look to return to trophy-winning ways.
Madrid’s shortcomings are more concerned with mentality rather than personnel, and their psychological fragility was exposed again in their Champions League exit to Juventus. There is no doubt Madrid have the quality to beat anyone, but Benitez must make them believe it.