It’s that time of year — the annual Managing Madrid roundtable season preview has returned! Most of our writers have come together to share their thoughts and predictions on the upcoming 2021/2022 season:
What changes will Carlo Ancelotti’s appointment bring?
Lucas Navarrete: Real Madrid should, at least on paper, focus on more possession-oriented football now that he’s the coach. Other than that, Ancelotti was appointed so that he would not complain about the team he’s given, so I think it’s safe to assume that he will give players like Jovic, Rodrygo, Isco or Odegaard more chances to play. I also expect Bale and Hazard to play major minutes at least early in the season. Ancelotti likes to keep everyone involved but I think the biggest change will be Madrid’s flow on offense, which should improve now.
Om Arvind: Most of the changes will be brought about by different personnel but, hopefully, faster, more decisive play on the ball and a greater level of trust in youth.
Euan McTear: I think it’ll bring few changes, to be honest. The transition from Zidane to Ancelotti is more of a changing of the guard, rather than a revolution. I think we’ll still largely see 4-3-3. I think we’ll still largely see Modrić-Casemiro-Kroos. I think we’ll still largely see a happy dressing room. I think we’ll still hardly see major in-game changes. But, I do expect a slightly less cautious approach from Ancelotti, perhaps will less reliance on Casemiro. I also expect him to take the Copa del Rey more seriously than Zidane ever did. Plus, we’ll have a lot more content from press conferences with the chattier Ancelotti. So, stay tuned to Managing Madrid for that.
Matt Wiltse: The Italian was appointed as a continuity candidate, so rather than bring radical change, I think we will see more of the same from Carlo. His appointment may breathe fresh life into guys like Isco and Bale – with no new signings, that’s an area where some are clining on to hope. On a tactical level, I think there will be a greater fluidity to Real Madrid’s attack. We have already seen some lightning quick counter attacks in preseason and wouldn’t be surprised to see Ancelotti focus on creating goal-scoring opportunities through transitions.
Who will help carry the goal-scoring load outside of Karim Benzema?
Euan McTear: Can I say nobody? Yeah, I’m going to say nobody. In each of the three LaLiga seasons since Cristiano Ronaldo left, Benzema has scored at least 30% of Real Madrid’s goals. It was 21 goals for 33.3% in 2018/19, 21 goals for 30.0% in 2019/20 and 23 goals for 34.3% in 2020/21. In each of those seasons, those numbers have placed Benzema in the top six of all LaLiga players for percentage of a team’s goals. Iago Aspas at Celta Vigo is the only other player to have also been in the top six of this category in each of the past three seasons. The goalscoring burden on Benzema has been ridiculous and I don’t see any way – other than the arrival of Kylian Mbappé – that it is lessened.
Om Arvind: I’m skeptical there will be one player like that who steps up in a big way. If I was forced to choose, I’d go with Rodrygo or Bale
Matt Wiltse: That has been the big questions for two seasons running. Losing Sergio Ramos means there is even less of a goal threat. Unfortunately, I do not think either Jovic or Mariano will have a big role to paly this season thus the burden falls to players like Rodyrgo, Bale, and Hazard. If the aforementioned names can stay fit – highly unlikely – then there should be at least 15-20 goals between the two. If not, I think it will be another sub-par goal scoring season.
Lucas Navarrete: The hope is that Hazard and Bale can stay healthy (yes, I know). In my opinion, it’s not a very realistic scenario and seeing other players like Rodrygo, Asensio or Vinicius scoring effectively would be surprising, so I think Real Madrid will be in trouble in this department, although Ancelotti’s focus on offensive game should help a bit.
Name one game on the calendar that you think will be trickier than most people expect?
Om Arvind: Espanyol.
Matt Wiltse: November 24th – December 12th will be the first real gauntlet. We have 3 La Liga matches – vs Sevilla (at Home), vs Real Sociedad (Away), vs Atletico Madrid (at Home) with 2 Champions League matches squeezed in before the Sevilla game and after the Real Sociedad game. I think that Real Sociedad game will be trickier than most expect. Away at Anoeta with arguably bigger games squeezed in between, the team will need to retain their focus and optimal physical levels to get a positive result.
Lucas Navarrete: Opening game away against Alaves and the next two games. Real Madrid kick off their 2021-2022 Liga season with three straight away games because of the works at the Bernabeu. Madrid have been underwhelming this pre-season and some key players are either injured or in poor physical condition because of the short pre-season, so the team could very well drop points in all of those three games and it would not be a huge shock.
Euan McTear: Matchday 4: Celta Vigo at home. I think this is a banana skin game for several reasons. Even though Real Madrid will be making their long-awaited return to the Bernabéu, this brings its own challenges. They’ve been away for so long that the Bernabéu will be the most unfamiliar to Los Blancos that it has since its inauguration in 1947. Even with 30,000 or so fans, this will be the most surreal home game. Furthermore, this fixture is also just after the international break and that always brings challenges for Real Madrid, especially if Benzema is away with France too. Then there’s the fact that Celta Vigo are just a very good team. They had the sixth-best record in LaLiga last season following Eduardo Coudet’s appointment and now they’ve had a full pre-season to work with that coach and they’ve made some interesting signings. So, I’d be wary of expecting a comfortable home win in this first game back at the Bernabéu.
What is your hot take for this season?
Matt Wiltse: Eden Hazard puts his injury woes behind him and by the second half of the season becomes one of the first names on the team sheet.
*Bonus long-term take: Ivan Morante goes on to have a better career than Antonio Blanco. Mentioned on a patron pod, but putting down in writing!
Lucas Navarrete: Madrid end the season trophy-less just like in 2020-2021 but play a more attractive style of football. I’m not sure if that qualifies as hot take, so my other hot take is: Miguel Gutierrez establishes himself as the team’s undisputed starter at the LB spot.
Euan McTear: Real Madrid will win LaLiga and, here’s the bold prediction part, they win it before the final matchday. I’m really convinced that this is the year Ancelotti completes his set of league titles, having won leagues in Italy, England, France and Germany, but never in Spain. Barcelona will not be anywhere near as competitive as usual, now that they’ve lost Messi. I think Atlético Madrid will target another run at the Champions League, after scratching that LaLiga itch last year. Sevilla really can compete for the title, but I think they’ll fall short too. I think Real Madrid win the championship this year and win it with at least one round to spare. I don’t think it goes down to the final day this time. Y’all called me crazy for saying the same thing before 2019/20. Let’s see what happens this time.
Om Arvind: The injury crisis fails to get that much better from last season.
Give us your predictions for:
A) Unsung hero of the season
B) MIP (most improved)
A. Courtois - unsung hero
B. Rodrygo - MIP
C. Benzema - MVP
A) Unsung hero of the season
Nacho. Only twice before has Nacho played more than 2,000 minutes in a LaLiga season, and I expect this to be the third. With both Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane having left, there will be a lot of minutes available at centre-back. Even if David Alaba and Éder Militão are the starters, third-choice Nacho will still get a lot of minutes and I expect him to do as well as ever, and do so with almost zero recognition.
B) MIP (most improved)
Isco. Usually the most improved player in a season is a youngster who finally has that breakout year. But, for me, I’m going for Isco for MIP. I believe the midfielder has a second footballing life in him and that Ancelotti can get the best out of him, so I think he’ll leave the nadir of last term behind him and become an important member of the squad again.
Benzema. He’ll be top scorer. He’ll be the reason Real Madrid win things. He’ll be the MVP.
A) Carvajal - unsung hero
B) Rodrygo - MIP
C) Benzema - MVP
A. Unsung Hero: Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian has fulfilled the unsung hero role to perfection over the last few years.
B. Rodrygo Goes: I said Rodrygo would be MIP last season, and prior to his injury, was on his way. He developed as super sub off the bench in the first half of the season, providing a number of game-winning assists. Carlo seems to like the Brazilian and I think this could be the year of exponential growth.
C. Karim Benzema: Without KB9, Real Madrid’s attack sputters. He is the leader of this club with Ramos’ departure and will be crucial if the team are to win any trophies this season.
Give us your final season predictions: Standings in La Liga, Copa, and UCL.
La Liga: 2nd (Atleti winners)
Copa Del Rey: Final (2nd)
La Liga: 2nd
Copa Del Rey: Semi-Finals
La Liga: 2nd behind Atletico
UCL: Knocked out in the Quarterfinals
Copa del Rey: Knocked out in the Semifinals
La Liga: 1st
Copa del Rey: Semi-finals