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Is Real Madrid’s Squad Weaker This Season?

Drilling into the team’s squad depth to unearth an answer

Real Madrid v Sevilla - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Following an unimpressive start to the La Liga campaign, a large number of people voiced their concerns about Real Madrid’s squad depth. They felt that the current crop of players are unable to make the same impact as reserve players in last season’s squad. So, are those fears justified?

Not only fans, but also Ronaldo, commented on this issue and provided Spanish journalist with some fresh ammo for their so-called news. After losing to Tottenham 3-1 at Wembley, Ronaldo made the following comments:

"The players who arrived this summer have a lot of potential. Pepe, Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez made us stronger, but those in the squad today are younger.

"It is not a worse squad but it has less experience and that is very important. It's not an excuse, I'm happy and the alarms are not going off."

Ronaldo is often quite frank with his comment which is not necessarily a good thing. Some things are better kept in the locker room, such as this infamous and disrespectful comment about his teammates.

“If we were all at my level, maybe we would be leaders...I don’t want to disrespect anyone, but when the best players aren’t available it’s harder to win.”

However, I do think it’s worthwhile to have a look at the squad and its composition, and compare it to other European top teams, as well as Real Madrid’s squad from last season.

Let’s make something clear right from the start: Real Madrid’s squad from 2016/17 was a collective unicorn. It was the best squad ever assembled in history (and no, this is not a hyperbole). Through sheer wizardry from Florentino Perez and Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid managed to keep an astounding number of truly world-class players as reserve players. Even though it only lasted for a year, it was still incredible.

Coming into the past summer, Real Madrid decided to slightly up their youth-hunting policy. Dani Ceballos and Theo Hernandez were acquired from Real Betis and Atletico Madrid respectively, while Jesus Vallejo and Borja Mayoral returned from their German adventures. And still it wasn’t the end, as Achraf Hakimi was promoted from Real Madrid Castilla to the first team.

I have a feeling that you suspect where I’m going with this, but I think you might be surprised at the end.

Here is the age comparison with four other big European teams.

Some aspects were quite predictable. PSG’s acquisition of Kylian Mbappe from AS Monaco drastically lowered their starting XI average age, because this French phenomenon is only 18 years old. Same goes for Manchester City, who heavily scouted talented youngsters in Brazil and Germany.

But move to Real Madrid and immediately the bench average age hits you. It’s massively lower than any other of the four teams. The combined average age of all Madrid bench players is only 23.16.

And if you drill down, you will find out that seven out of the 12 bench players are 22 years old or younger, which is mind-blowing. PSG has three players, Bayern has two, Barcelona has one, City has none. This shows the extreme and obsessed focus on youth players that Real Madrid currently has. It may even get more extreme as rumours are whispering that Odegaard might return and stay with the first team. What is his age? Well, he’ll be 19 years old in five days.

All of this is very exciting and promising, but it also has its clear downsides. Young players are almost synonymous with inconsistency. It’s unfair to expect Borja Mayoral or Dani Ceballos to produce the same numbers as Alvaro Morata or James Rodriguez did last season. So yes, this squad is weaker as they lost wonderful players capable of winning the game by themselves.

However, it’s not only about inconsistency, but also about experience. It’s no surprise that players that are 26-28 have more experience in dealing with pressure and nerve-wracking situations. They know how to keep calm, not panic, and they even thrive in those moments.

It’s no wonder that most teams opt for older players to provide the necessary squad depth. Only Dutch teams, most notably Ajax Amsterdam (seven out of nine bench players are U22 and the average age of bench players is 22.11), from the bigger leagues have such focus on youth.

It’s worth mentioning that Ajax won their last Champions League title in 1996 and their attention to youth plays a big role in this.

But Real Madrid are not most teams. They are stubbornly determined to go against all the odds and prove to everyone that you can win titles even with so many young players. Should Real Madrid win yet another Champions League title, it would be, in my opinion, a bigger feat that last season’s back-to-back win.

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