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5 questions that Real Madrid’s pre-season will answer

From defence to attack, Carlo Ancelotti has decisions to make

Real Madrid Unveil New Signing Jude Bellingham Photo by Pedro Castillo/Real Madrid via Getty Images

Carlo Ancelotti welcomes his players back to Valdebebas for a new pre-season campaign and the start of the 2023/24 season on Monday, July 10th, before heading to the US later this month for a series of friendlies.

Antonio Pintus will put the players through their paces both in Madrid and in double sessions at UCLA in Los Angeles, with fixtures lined up against Milan in LA on July 23rd, then playing Manchester United in Houston on July 26th, taking on FC Barcelona in Dallas on July 29th and finally wrapping up with Juventus in Orlando on August 2nd.

Here, we take a look at five questions that we will be asking ahead of Real Madrid’s pre-season and seeking answers in the next month ahead.

1. How will Carlo Ancelotti manage so many midfielders?

Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos, Eduardo Camavinga, Jude Bellingham, Aurélien Tchouaméni, Fede Valverde, Dani Ceballos, Brahim Díaz, and possibly even Arda Güler. It’s a selection of midfield options that is enough to make Real Madrid fans drool. But it will also be giving Carlo Ancelotti a headache.

With as many as nine players fighting for three positions on the field, Ancelotti will likely give us a glimpse into how he sees his squad management going through the 2023/24 campaign and how he fits these players into the available positions.

The most likely result is that the likes of Brahim, Valverde, and possibly even Bellingham, are deployed in attack, while Camavinga could also be moved to left-back if needed. Minutes will be distributed, but they may not be in the preferred midfield position of each player.

In the holding role, the most optimistic could be Tchouaméni given the lack of relative competition for his role compared to more advanced roles. Camavinga and Kroos are likely to alternate with him, but he seems the most natural fit.

Given the inevitable pressure to give Bellingham a chance to shine as the club’s marquee new signing, and with veterans Modrić and Kroos still around, even man manager Ancelotti could have his work cut out to keep everyone happy.

2. What does the attack look like without Karim Benzema?

The last time Real Madrid went through a pre-season campaign without Karim Benzema, the goalscorers in games against LASK Linz and Eintracht Frankfurt included Raúl, Robinho, Júlio Baptista and Javier Saviola. It was 15 years ago.

Now, with the Frenchman having departed for Saudi Arabia, Real Madrid will have a new-look attack. The question is whether Carlo Ancelotti will look to deploy Joselu as a like-for-like replacement, or whether he changes shape.

The arrival from Espanyol means that there is an experience out-and-out centre forward who can step in, as well as Álvaro Rodríguez, who could step up, as well as the false nine option of Rodrygo Goes. The Brazilian played centrally on a few occasions towards the end of the season with a strong impact, which could open up a role on the right flank.

Real Madrid Unveil New Signing Joselu Photo by Antonio Villalba/Real Madrid via Getty Images

The alternative for Ancelotti may be to change system and experiment with two in attack. Much like when Valverde has featured on the right and dropped into midfield, but in a more regular shape, Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo could be the two forwards in more central roles.

This pre-season will likely be an experimentation period for coach and players alike, and seeing what Ancelotti’s thinking is could be an intriguing insight into what is to come in the season ahead.

3. Who will feature at left-back?

Madridistas became accustomed to seeing Eduardo Camavinga deployed as the team’s left-back throughout the latter stages of 2022/23, but that seems almost certain to change in 2023/24, at least for pre-season.

Ferland Mendy is subject to interest from Saudi Arabia and his future remains unclear, but he should at least be fit for selection unless a deal materialises in the next few days. Before injury, he was Ancelotti’s first choice.

New arrival Fran García has been very impressive for Rayo Vallecano in recent years as he’s established himself in LaLiga, and will be looking to show what he can do. He may look to build on any link he had with Vinícius, when they briefly coincided at Castilla in 2018, to help him to fit into the team quickly.

The other alternative is that of David Alaba. The experienced leader of this defence, he tends to prefer playing centrally, but shifting him to the left is an option and one that Ancelotti could call upon.

More than any other position, this is rehearsal time for the competitive action to come in the left-back role. It would seem that a starting slot is there for the taking, particularly for young Fran García, but he will have to show up for the audition.

4. Who will feature from Castilla?

Raúl has been clear this summer that he would like to have the core of his squad available to him for his team’s own preparations to avoid a repeat of last season’s slow start, where Castilla failed to win either of their two opening games.

There is an added complication in that these players will also be coming into action only a matter of weeks after ending the 2022/23 campaign. The play-offs in Primera RFEF meant that their season ended with heartbreak on June 25th, only 15 days before the first team will be back at Valdebebas for training.

Despite that, Carlo Ancelotti has requested that three players in particular take part in the first team’s preparations. They are Sergio Arribas, Mario Martín and Nico Paz. For Arribas, it could be a decisive period which will settle whether he remains at the club with a role on the edge of the squad, or whether he moves on.

Real Madrid Castilla v CD Eldense - Primera RFEF Play Off Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Martín and Paz, aged 19 and 18 respectively, have less at stake. Both have promised, without being key players just yet, for Castilla, and will be looking to stake their claim and impress both Raúl and Ancelotti in this trial period.

Others to feature will be Uruguayan forward Álvaro Rodríguez, who Ancelotti previously stated would be with the first team this season, and defender Rafa Marín, providing his future is clarified given that he is entering the last year of his contract.

Additionally, Fran González could feature as a candidate for the third goalkeeper role, alternating between Juvenil A and the first team to give Raúl’s side consistency between the sticks.

5. Could Carlo Ancelotti be under pressure before the season even starts?

Now this may seem a strange question, but there’s every reason to think that the Italian coach may be facing criticism before the first competitive ball has been kicked in the 2023/24 campaign.

After it emerged that he has agreed a deal with Brazil to take over of the South American nation for the Copa America in 2024, question marks have already been raised over the commitment of a coach who has one eye on the future.

Now, he faces a demanding pre-season schedule with a series of challenging fixtures against top European sides, including arch rivals Barcelona. While results don’t matter at this stage of the season, it’s never easy to take a defeat to the other side of the Clásico divide.

This comes after ending the season with a damp squib in LaLiga and the Champions League, while Barcelona romped home to win the title. Many thought it could cost Ancelotti his job this summer, but he’s been afforded a stay of execution.

If results and performances disappoint in the early weeks of pre-season, which is quite possible given the adjustment needed in attack and in midfield, his critics won’t hold back in raising doubts before the season kicks off against Athletic Club in Bilbao in August.

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