Real Madrid narrowly missed out on a major trophy last year and many blame the squad's lack of depth. After the injury to the ever-so-influential Luka Modrić, the team lost the ‘balance’ that Carlo Ancelotti always sought to maintain. Unsure of Khedira, Illaramendi and Lucas Silva, Ancelotti opted for the midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Isco and James, all of whom are quite attacking-minded.
As a result, Kroos suffered from fatigue and the team eventually ran out of gas after their illustrious 22-match winning streak. Now, the Madrid hierarchy looks set to avoid such mistakes. Brazilian Casemiro has already returned from FC Porto after having put in a string of fine displays both in the Primeira Liga and the Champions League, including a fascinating strike against Basel in the UCL.
Still, Lucas Silva is likely to leave on loan, with Sami Khedira having already left for free to Juventus. Their departures leave Casemiro and arguably Modrić as the only two defensively disciplined midfielders, and thus explain the rumours linking coach Rafael Benítez to players such as Marco Verratti, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Geoffrey Kondogbia.
Weight: 60 kg
Verratti has been heavily linked with a move to the Bernabéu, even though his comments last month suggest that he may stay put in Paris. "To continue growing as a player, this is the place I want to be," the Italian midfielder told Telefoot. Should Madrid sign Verratti, it is likely that he would play alongside Kroos and Modrić in a three man midfield. With an incredible pass accuracy and a significant number of chances created for the Parisian outfit last season, Verratti would slide in seamlessly into the technically gifted Madrid midfield. His defensive numbers are of concern, however. Verratti would surely be an improvement over Illara and Lucas Silva, but may not provide defensive stability in a potentially weak Madrid midfield.
Weight: 80 kg
Pogba is the man pursued by all European giants. French legend Zidane recently spoke of the interest that the 22-year-old is generating throughout the footballing world. Classed as a potential future Ballon d’Or winner, the Frenchman seems like the typical marquee signing that is too tempting for Madrid President Florentino Pérez to resist. Pogba’s pass accuracy may need to improve, especially considering that he has been known to misplace simple passes. However, his physical stature and defensive discipline make up for the occasional misplaced passes. Pogba would be able to provide a much-needed physical presence in the Madrid midfield.
Weight: 75 kg
Vidal is known for his tenacity and work-rate on the pitch. He rarely stops running and acts as a true leader. The statistics however show that, apart from a marginally better pass accuracy, Vidal falls short in nearly all other categories when compared to Pogba. In terms of defensive capabilities, Vidal edges Verratti. In contrast to Verratti, Pogba, and Kondogbia, Vidal is reaching his peak and may not improve any further. This will however be represented in his price tag, which may be of consideration. All in all, Vidal is both a technically and defensively astute player, and may remind fans of the tirelessness that Ángel Di María used to contribute.
While Kondogbia may lack the marketability of the aforementioned players, he would surely contribute to a Madrid side which last season often required a man of his capabilities. Not only possessing adept technical abilities, Kondogbia further offers defensive grit. Like Pogba, his physical presence would be felt on the pitch. Rumours indicate that potential suitors may need to pay his release clause of €35 million, and such a large price tag may tempt Madrid into simply signing an already established star.
Verdict: Paul Pogba
Pogba will be expensive – that much is for sure. "He's a complete player, who is also capable of scoring goals, because he gets forward a lot. In terms of his football qualities, he is extraordinary," Zidane told RTL. While rumours suggest that Pogba is leaning closer to Barcelona due to his agent’s relationships with the Catalan club, the Frenchman would be wise to join Benítez. His price tag would mean that he would rarely be on the bench, and he would be able to express his footballing qualities within a squad packed with talent and desire to retake both the Spanish and European thrones. He may not be the most consistent, but he is only 22 years old and will learn from the best in the world.