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

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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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Features

Five players who will be fixed starters for Real Madrid next season

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Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

Following a successful campaign, Real Madrid are poised for significant changes in their roster due to a combination of player arrivals and departures.

The responsibility of blending new faces with established stars will fall to coach Carlo Ancelotti and his staff as they aim to maintain the club’s competitive edge domestically and in Europe.

And to predict the team’s probable strategy and performance amidst these changes, it is imperative to identify the key players who will be constant starters.

Kylian Mbappe

The new talisman. (Photo by ROMAIN PERROCHEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

With Real Madrid no longer viewing Mbappe through rose-tinted lenses and finally being able to dress him in the royal white jersey, the Frenchman is expected to be one of the first names on the team sheet.

Owing to his instinctive nature to find the back of the net, he is poised to be paired alongside Vinicius Jr. in attack.

Last season, the 2018 World Cup winner scored a whopping 44 goals in all competitions. Thus Real Madrid will be banking heavily on Mbappe’s ability to ask questions of opposition defenders in the final third.

It is being said that Mbappe is all set to wear the iconic number 9 jersey at Real Madrid, which is indicative of the role he will play, as a focal striker.

Vinicius Jr.

The main man at Real Madrid. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The Brazilian is in pole position to win the Ballon d’Or this year, and looking back on his season with Real Madrid, it is easy to see why.

Despite losing Karim Benzema, his usual partner in crime over the past few years, Vinicius performed remarkably well in Ancelotti’s new system.

Relentlessly taking on defenders, arriving into space, scoring goals, and stepping up in the biggest of moments, he was one of Real Madrid’s major lynchpins throughout the season as they lifted a historic double.

Vinicius impressively racked up 24 goals last season, and given his importance to the team, the likelihood of him not maintaining a starting role next season is nearly nonexistent.

Jude Bellingham

Real Madrid Fans’ Player of the Season. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Defying all expectations in his debut season, Jude Bellingham established himself as a key player for Real Madrid, demonstrating exceptional versatility, and maturity far beyond his years.

Although the Englishman’s performances wavered in the final stretch of the season, Bellingham’s contributions ensured Los Blancos were able to compete in the Champions League and especially La Liga.

In addition to scoring 23 goals in all competitions, he has constantly been a beacon of reliability in midfield and has proven to be the voice of reason on the pitch.

There have been murmurs about Bellingham potentially being berthed deeper next season as Real Madrid intends to use him as Kroos’ replacement. However, given his versatility, he is expected to be a crucial player wherever he plays.

Antonio Rudiger

A mainstay at the back. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Rudiger is one of the major reasons Real Madrid managed to successfully disguise their injury crisis. Despite players falling like dominos in the back-line, the German stood resolutely as a dependable figure for most of the campaign, arguably enjoying one of his best seasons.

Expertly anticipating opposition strikers’ movements, he leaps forward to thwart attacks before they begin. Moreover, thanks to his large stature and incredible recovery pace, he is able to cover distances behind.

Reports have mentioned that Carlo Ancelotti views him as a crucial component of the squad and potential arrivals, such as those of Leny Yoro and Rafa Marin, in the back-line are unlikely to devalue his presence.

Thibaut Courtois

Back like he was never gone. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

In spite of spending more than half of the campaign on the sidelines recovering from an ACL and MCL injury, Courtois is worth his weight in gold for Real Madrid.

He performed admirably in the final few games of the season and did no wrong against Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League final.

While Andriy Lunin made up for his absence with flying colours, he is placed below Courtois in the pecking order for now, which also has made the Ukrainian lean towards an exit.

The fact that Lunin, after his sublime season, stands no chance of dethroning Courtois between the sticks is a testament to how much the club appreciates the Belgian. Even at the age of 32, the Belgian keeper is anticipated to retain an important role in the team.

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