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Real Madrid 2023/24 season preview: Squad update, key players, critical fixtures, expectations



Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Life comes fast at you as a Real Madrid player. With a low margin for error, the continuous spotlight, and nowhere to hide, it surely cannot be easy to perform at the highest level day in and day out.

Last season, the Merengues had their moments. Karim Benzema’s one-man show at Spotify Camp Nou, the demolition of Liverpool at Anfield, and the ruthless Copa del Rey run are some of the instances that spring to mind as the highs.

Yet, the 2022/23 campaign will go down as one of the troughs on Real Madrid’s curve. Such are the elite standards at a club of its stature.

Last year, Los Blancos fell significantly short of Barcelona in La Liga through sheer inconsistency in the competition.

They were embarrassed in the UEFA Champions League by Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and finished the season with just the Copa del Rey and the FIFA Club World Cup to show.

As the men in white step onto the turf for a new season, the highs and lows of last season undeniably will run in the back of their minds. The only objective – to top it with a more resilient and golden run.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side enjoyed a mixed pre-season run with a 50% win percentage. Yet, pre-season friendlies are less about the results and more centred around the manager’s experimentation with his squad.

The tour to the USA leaves the team with sufficient food for thought and a strong drive to work better heading into the season opener.

Squad equation

Real Madrid bid goodbye to Benzema. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

There has been quite a change in personnel for Carlo Ancelotti heading into the new season. Not many saw the surprise departures of the summer transfer window coming, but it is safe to say that Los Blancos are largely improved in terms of quality at the end of the transactions.

Karim Benzema is undoubtedly the biggest loss for the men in white. The Frenchman appeared set to renew his deal with the club but opted for a lucrative move to Saudi Arabia instead.

Some of the other notable departures include Marco Asensio, Eden Hazard, Mariano Diaz, and Jesus Vallejo.

In return, Los Blancos gained the services of high-rated English midfielder Jude Bellingham who has created incredible sensations in the pre-season.

Arda Guler is yet another bet for the future. The administration toiled to get over the line for the teenage Turkish sensation. He is currently injured but will be a lethal force once back in action.

Fran Garcia and Brahim Diaz are two ex-Real Madrid players who have returned to help take forward Carlo Ancelotti’s project. The former will be the starting left-back this season while the latter serves as an able option for the forward positions.

The club also roped in Joselu to make up for the departure of Benzema although it is seemingly impossible to replace the French star’s genius.

In a more recent development, Los Blancos’ first-choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois suffered a potentially season-ending injury by rupturing his ACL. It remains to be seen who the club sign to fill his shoes.

Important fixtures

Every game is a final at Real Madrid. There is simply no room for excuses at the Spanish capital, for even a draw is seen as nothing less than a loss.

Yet, the calendar brings its share of big fixtures from the get-go. These nights will be the ones when the spotlight will shine brightest on Ancelotti’s stars and the pressure will be the highest.

Here are some of the biggest fixtures Real Madrid will play in La Liga this season.

Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid – 24th September 2023 (Matchday 6)
Barcelona vs Real Madrid – 29th October 2023 (Matchday 11)
Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid – 4th February 2023 (Matchday 23)
Real Madrid vs Barcelona – 21st April 2023 (Matchday 32)

Key players

Jude Bellingham

A star in the making. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

The 20-year-old signed for Real Madrid this summer in a move worth over €100 million and is the club’s bet to take over the attacking midfield role. He has shown an exceptional level in pre-season thus far and is even seen as a regular starter by Ancelotti.

In a season where Los Blancos could potentially be without a central striker, the onus of creating better chances will fall on the new signing’s shoulders. Moreover, the former Borussia Dortmund star is more than capable of finding the back of the net himself.

Vinicius Jr.

The Brazilian phenom has become synonymous with Real Madrid in recent seasons and has proven to be a complete package for his manager. Now, it is time for Vinicius to take up more responsibility.

In the absence of Benzema, the youngster will be tasked with leading the Merengues’ forward line and must maximise his output in front of goal. It will not be easy for him, however, considering that he might have to adapt to a new role in Ancelotti’s 4-4-2 setup.

Federico Valverde

Last season, Ancelotti gave the Uruguayan international an objective to score at least ten goals in the campaign as he sought to push him into a more advanced role.

The 25-year-old started the season with a bang and scored four goals in just his first nine appearances. Yet, his output tapered off towards the end of the season and he completed the term with 13 goals to his name.

With the competition in midfield now more gruelling than ever, it will be up to Valverde to prove his worth. If he shines bright, he could define Real Madrid’s season.

Emerging talents

Nico Paz could enjoy a breakthrough season. (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty Images)

Real Madrid Castilla has several youngsters knocking on the first-team doors. However, very few will make the cut into Ancelotti’s plans.

One player well placed in that aspect is Nico Paz. The 18-year-old Argentine sensation has impressed the manager with his level in pre-season training and is one to keep an eye out for this season.

Arda Guler is another candidate as the team’s emerging player of the season. The teenage sensation suffered an injury early in his Real Madrid career, but if reports are anything to go by, there is serious quality in his boots.

Challenges for the manager

The 2023/24 campaign will be a challenging affair for Ancelotti. A lot of the team’s success will boil down to his tactical adjustments and man-management through the season.

For starters, the Italian tactician is tasked with finding the right formula for his team. With key forwards departing and a sudden influx of quality midfielders, it is essential that Los Blancos find a way to optimise their strengths on the field for the collective good.

The 4-4-2 setup has tempted Ancelotti on that front. The novel system fits the midfielders well, but it compromises the quality of Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo who are dragged into uncomfortable central roles.

Ancelotti will not have it easy this season. (Photo by ARIC BECKER/AFP via Getty Images)

Concurrently, there is the evergreen challenge of changing guard. Real Madrid are in the process of phasing out veteran stars for younger options gradually.

This season, it will be up to Ancelotti to slowly reduce the dependence on the likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric and hand the mantle to the upcoming stars.

The final big challenge for the coach is the defensive setup. Real Madrid’s new 4-4-2 structure inherently brings with it a higher risk of defensive lapses. With Thibaut Courtois likely to miss the entire season, the spotlight will shine brighter than ever on the team’s defensive stability.

Season objectives

If Europe’s elite aim for the sky, Real Madrid aim for the stars. There is seldom a concept of satisfaction in the Spanish capital, with every loss considered a failure.

The men in white will thus push as primary contenders for every competition they compete in. Yet, there are some specific objectives they would like to complete this campaign.

In recent years, the Merengues have earned the title of being knockout kings. They never fail to deliver under pressure and find ways to come back even with the world against them.

Yet, they have not enjoyed nearly as much success in La Liga. Last season, Real Madrid struggled to maintain consistency in the competition and constantly fell to surprise defeats. This season, Ancelotti must ensure that the league is not sacrificed for other objectives.

The UEFA Champions League is the club’s perennial aim and will no doubt be at the top of their wishlist. Yet, as history has it, the UCL is wildly unpredictable.

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Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Las Palmas | La Liga



Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The heartbreak at Civitas Metropolitano saw Real Madrid drop down to third on the La Liga standings for the first time this season. They now sit on 15 points from six games, only one point behind leaders Barcelona.

Yet, there is barely time for the team to recover. Less than 72 hours after their defeat, the Merengues play host to Las Palmas in the seventh Matchday of La Liga in a tricky fixture.

Garcia Pimienta’s side have improved leaps and bounds in recent times, although their start to the new season has been far from positive.

Las Palmas were winless in their first five league games but picked up a first win in their most recent outing against Granada.

With the visitors coming off their first win and the hosts their first loss, it will be interesting to see how the game of momentum plays out.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Wednesday’s clash at Santiago Bernabeu.

The important reaction

Having secured six wins in six games under their belt, the threat of breaking the moment was always lurking around the corner from Real Madrid. After all, their wins to that point were not always convincing.

Jude Bellingham’s magic, Joselu’s constant threat and the talented midfield helped Los Blancos on their way to scrappy wins over the weeks. Yet, it was always glaringly clear that they had deficiencies in defence and the final third.

All of Real Madrid’s troubles came to the forefront on Sunday and were left glaringly exposed. The end result was a defeat that left a bitter taste in the mouths of players and fans.

Despite facing their first setback of the season, however, the men in white have no time to lament. After all, the hectic schedule leaves them little time between games.

It is thus of utmost importance that Real Madrid does not slip into a vicious state of negative momentum. As they face off against Las Palmas midweek, Carlo Ancelotti’s side needs a strong and dominant win to keep spirits high.

Considering that they will be back at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid will be the favourites by far on the night. Nevertheless, there will be pressure on the players to take all three points.

Limelight on the manager

Under the cosh. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images)

The aftermath of the defeat to Atletico Madrid sent ripples through the Spanish media. It was reported that the Real Madrid board was not entirely happy with the list of ‘sins’ committed by Ancelotti in the clash at Civitas Metropolitano.

It thus goes without saying that the limelight will be on the manager on Wednesday.

For starters, the Italian gaffer must get the starting lineup right and not go overboard with his rotations. Aurelien Tchouameni is a must for the Merengues’ defensive efforts and must be introduced back into the lineup midweek.

Moreover, there will be pressure on him to revert to the winning 4-4-2 diamond formation featuring two natural forwards including a striker.

With Joselu returning to the lineup, Jude Bellingham must shift back to his more comfortable attacking midfield role.

Moreover, the manager must strike the right balance between youth and experience, for both Toni Kroos and Luka Modric can no longer start together.

Perhaps the most important job Ancelotti is faced with, however, is in defence. Both David Alaba and Antonio Rudiger appeared lost in the last game, and it remains to be seen if the manager ropes Nacho Fernandez in to strike a better dynamic.

Return of the magician

While Thibaut Courtois and Eder Militao are amongst Real Madrid’s most valuable players, it is Vinicius Jr’s injury that hit the club the hardest.

The Merengues unfortunately have a very thin and fragile forward line this season with just three players competing for two spots. Of the three names, Vinicius is the single most important one.

The Brazilian star may not have started the 2023-24 season at his optimal level considering his altered role in the new formation. Yet, he is the Merengues’ most lethal weapon to break open defences and create chances.

The men in white have had problems since the Selecao star hobbled off the field injured against Celta Vigo.

Their games against Getafe and Union Berlin were both down to last-gasp winners, while the defeat to Atletico Madrid showed everything wrong with the team.

Vinicius Jr is set to make his return in tomorrow’s clash at Santiago Bernabeu, and there could be no better news for Ancelotti.

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