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Five candidates to replace Pepe

Who’s ready to step into Pepe’s boots?

SSC Napoli v Real Madrid CF - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

This summer, 34 year-old Portuguese defender Pepe will be leaving Real Madrid — supposedly bound for the Chinese Super League. In the last few season’s, he’s been used as second and third central defender -- usually depending on form and rotation. With Raphael Varane on the shelf, Pepe has received more chances to be in the starting XI.

When Pepe rides off into the sunset, we’re going to need a viable replacement.

But who?

Glad you asked!

Here are some players that have been bouncing around my head as we start to move towards summer. As a club, Real Madrid have to make the most of this coming transfer window, and the center-back depth chart at the senior level is/will be a bit thin.

Nacho Fernandez

UD Las Palmas v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

I’m all for promoting from within first and foremost. You have talent already, so why go out and purchase something you already have? Sometimes this method doesn’t work out for the best. The question is, can the third or fourth center-back step up into a starting XI and perform at the highest level match in and match out?

A lot of times the answer is quite simply - no.

In Nacho’s case, he deserves this chance.

The 27-year-old is as versatile as they come. He can play anywhere in the back line and we won’t see a drop in work rate. What’s awesome is he’s been one of the most consistent defenders all season.

He shows up every, single, match. He also has no problem taking a back seat. His loyalty to the club should be rewarded in spades. He’s a student of the game and Nacho’s laid back demeanor brings a calm voice to the back line.

This has been by far his most successful campaign. He’s earned his chance, and should be given a shot to show that he has what it takes to make the starting XI on a regular basis.

Plus how can you say no to some of the strongest beard-game in La Liga?

Jesus Vallejo

Eintracht Frankfurt  - Team Presentation Photo by Jan Huebner - Pool/Getty Images

Here’s another chance to promote from within.

Recalling him from loan at the end of the season has a high probability of happening — though my gut says keep him in the Bundesliga for another season. He could overtake Nacho or take Nacho’s old roll. Thus giving us a viable bench option with low risk and high reward. I’m not saying it’s a slam dunk, but the fan base has high expectations and are looking forward to seeing him in the Royal Whites sooner rather than later.

Up until February things were going well for him at Eintracht Frankfurt, until an injury derailed his season. He was taken out at the half in match day 21 against FC Ingolstadt. That was back on February 18th and he hasn’t seen the pitch since.

Mind you he’s still young, just 19 years-old. Usually Real Madrid bring them back a little older (see: Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez and even Denis Cheryshev).

Nicolas Otamendi

Manchester City v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Otamendi was a transfer target of Real Madrid’s dating back to 2015 when he was playing for Valencia. In the end he took a job offer from Manchester City. He’s made 22 appearances for City this season — 21 of them as a starter. He’s wicked good in the air with 4.2 aerial duels won per match.

He, like Sergio Ramos, ends up picking up silly yellow’s and the occasional red. But don’t let that get in the way, Los Blancos saw something in him before — and he could do well as a replacement for Pepe. As it is he may not be in Manchester City’s plans next season. The rumour is Guardiola’s set to clean house this summer and start bringing in ‘his guys’.

He’s had limited success since arriving at City and would come for the right price. His contract goes through 2020, but that shouldn’t be a problem for Los Blancos’ pocketbook. He’s definitely a viable option.

I think a change of scenery would do him well and he could be the guy Real Madrid need to fill that spot.

Gonzalo Rodriguez

AC Cesena v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Even with the fee for Pepe, Real Madrid may be reluctant to go after targets that are more of an investment — looking more to the current as opposed to the long haul. How about Fiorentina Captain Gonzalo Rodriguez? He is currently free to talk to other clubs that are looking for a top notch center back. The 32 year old Uruguayan club captain has the maturity and savvy of someone in his position, making him a very attractive player, even if he’s a little on the wrong side of 30.

Before the start of the term, there were rumblings that Rodriguez’s agent said that the latest contract offer from the Viola was not acceptable. There were a few club names thrown around including AC Milan.

The Royal Whites would have no problem shelling out the cash and out-bidding both the Rossoneri or Viola. The 32 year-old Uruguayan defender has made 22 appearances for Fiorentina, and according to, he’s averaging a 6.93 match rating.

I think he would be a steal of a deal.

Diego Reyes

Guatemala v Mexico: Group C - 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup
Diego Reyes #5
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Diego Reyes as a youngster impressed at FC Porto.

Reyes has now spent the last two seasons in the Spanish top flight. He’s been on loan at both Real Sociedad and Espanyol. He’s not only comfortable along the back line but he can also step up and play a solid defensive midfielder (possible back up for Casemiro as well?). Oh, and he was a gold medal winner with Mexico’s 2012 Olympic U-23 team.

Reyes has an eye for the game and can be a threat from the air. He’s very comfortable with the ball at his feet and going up field. Ultimately he should end up as a full time defensive mid — but in the meantime he could serve well as a third defensive back and the second defensive midfielder.

Gotta love multifaceted players.

He does have a history of being injury prone. One thing that’s holding him back is his propensity for making mistakes (this of course, could be overcome). With that being said he’s been a bit more consistent this season.

Espanyol have an option to make his loan permanent at the end of the season. I’d classify this move is a bit risky. That being said, I think he’s got a real upside and the reward for that could be very very good.


Who would you like to see replace Pepe?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    (646 votes)
  • 35%
    Jesus Vallejo
    (565 votes)
  • 12%
    Nicolas Otamendi
    (194 votes)
  • 1%
    Gonzalo Rodriguez
    (28 votes)
  • 4%
    Diego Reyes
    (65 votes)
  • 5%
    Other (explain in the comments)
    (81 votes)
1579 votes total Vote Now

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