Analyzing what Real Madrid's attack will look like post-Ronaldo
The day Madridistas have been dreading looks set to arrive sooner than expected. While the ongoing World Cup in Russia has taken the focus of fans and the media alike, the rumours about Cristiano Ronaldo are taking a share of the spotlight.
From all indications, it seems that the current best player in the world wants to leave the Santiago Bernabeu. Serie A looks to be his next port of call and perennial champions Juventus, the vehicle.
This transfer is one that would impact the world of football and raise the profile of the Bianconeri to a whole new level. A €100m fee is the agreement and from reports, Florentino Perez's acceptance of the deal is the only hurdle left.
While the arrival of a G.O.A.T like Ronaldo will significantly boost Juve's chances of claiming the elusive UCL title (and off-field revenues), how it will affect Los Merengues is anybody's guess. How does a team replace a player who has plundered 450 goals in just 438 matches? This is the huge problem that Perez and new manager Julen Lopetegui will have to solve.
The exit of Ronaldo means that the team will have to find a new way of playing and getting goals. Far too many times in the last few seasons especially under Zinedine Zidane, "pass to Ronaldo" was the team's only attacking play. Players like Karin Benzema and the injury-prone Gareth Bale have failed to step up. This led to a poor goal scoring rate whenever Ronaldo was absent or off-form (thankfully, these were few and far between).
Lopetegui will have to fashion a new attacking style that allows more members of the team to score more goals. The favoured 4-3-3 style of Zidane may give way for something a bit more nuanced though a lot will depend on which players are brought to replace the Portuguese legend.
However, it looks like the exit of Ronaldo will give Bale the chance to play as the main man. The Welsh wizard has some similar attributes as Ronaldo, he might be asked to take a free role behind Benzema.
Marco Asensio may then be drafted to play on the right side of the attack. While he lacks the pace of a younger Ronaldo or Bale, his intelligence would be a useful tool especially against teams that sit deep.
This now leaves the elephant in the room; where does Isco play? The Spanish international is a favourite of the manager and looks set to play a more central role in the side. His roving style of play means that he will be more effective having a free role behind the striker. With this being a role coveted by Bale as well, it remains to be seen how this would play out.
With Lopetegui reportedly confirming that Dani Ceballos would play a bigger role, Isco no longer has a place in the Real midfield. This is despite the impending exit of Croatian schemer Marco Kovacic. Isco played for La Furia Roja during the Mundial as the closest midfielder to striker Diego Costa. While the lack of pace up front did not allow for the partnership to work, there were promising signs.
Getting Bale to play on his customary right flank (at the cost of Asensio) will be the better option. This would give the team creativity up top (Isco) and pace down the flanks (Bale).
For too long, Benzema has played as Ronaldo's shadow and assistant. Lopetegui will have to work on getting the Frenchman back to his old style of play when Benzema was undoubtedly one of the best strikers in world football (a style he has not played in years).
Back up striker Borja Mayoral has not impressed (either on loan or in the matches he played last season). Lopetegui will have to make a judgement call whether he feels they can deliver on the club's lofty aspirations.
With reported targets, Harry Kane and Mo Salah signing new deals recently, getting one of these men may be too expensive for even Real. The confirmation by PSG that Kylian Mbappe was now fully owned by the club and Real's official statements concerning him and Neymar seem to suggest that no deal is possible.
With names like Mauro Icardi already being mentioned, it will be interesting to see how the Madrid side is recalibrated to cope without its most potent attacking weapon.