Real Madrid need sensible depth, not big stars, when transfer ban lifts
As early as the beginning of February, the silly season officially started at the Santiago Bernabeu. Starved of signings for months because of Real Madrid's transfer ban, the Madrid media feel that a mouth-watering summer is bound to arrive, as the club's punishment was halved upon appeal last December.
The first few rumours sound ... well, as silly as they could possibly get. The most persistent one, a cocktail of Premier League-based names for the goalkeeper position, links the likes of Hugo Lloris, Thibaut Courtois and (still!) David De Gea with a move. The Manchester United player seems the most unlikely option, given the background. The alternative of bringing the Chelsea keeper back to Madrid is supported by various journalists who claim that Courtois loves and misses the city, where his wife and child still live.
The robust resistance by Chelsea, who have refused to let go of their first-choice keeper for the past two-and-a-half seasons, has brought Lloris, who recently extended his contract with Tottenham until 2022, into the picture. Rumours linking the France international keeper with Real Madrid started back in 2014, and the current ones seem as unlikely as those old stories.
At this point, Real Madrid's goal is extremely well-covered by Keylor Navas and Kiko Casilla. Even if Navas hasn't looked his best in a couple of recent matches, he steps up when it matters and definitely proved his worth last season. Casilla has performed admirably in the Copa del Rey and whenever his services have been required, excelling to the point that a sizeable section of fans wouldn't mind seeing him start more often, now that Real's Copa del Rey run is over.
Two transfer decisions that sound like no-brainers have to do with comebacks. Jesus Vallejo, 20, is making a great impression on loan with Eintracht Frankfurt and should have a future at the Bernabeu after the summer, as he'll have to cover for Pepe's rumoured move to China. Marcos Llorente, 22, is having a spectacular year with Alaves and will also come back to Madrid and offer depth at the defensive midfield position, a spot in which only Casemiro plays like a natural in the current squad.
Those two returns will indeed reinforce the team in key positions, but they only indirectly address the biggest holes in Zidane's roster. With Vallejo and Llorente, Nacho Fernandez can play either full-back position to cover for Marcelo and Daniel Carvajal, both quite prone to injuries and without real replacements in the squad. Even though Nacho more than delivers when required, he's a centre-back by trade and will eventually be exposed by faster wingers.
The club should find at least one pure full-back, a position currently plentiful in Spain, so that when Marcelo or Carvajal suffer yet another muscular injury next season, someone can step in and do the job both offensively and defensively. The promising 18-year-old Achraf Hakimi (known as "Arra") is waiting for his chance and playing well for Real Madrid Castilla, but Zidane believes he needs more minutes before making the complex leap to the first team.
The proof that such transfer rumours so far are indeed silly lies here: No one has yet mentioned a viable full-back target, even though it has never been more obvious that Fabio Coentrao and Danilo aren't exactly reliable alternatives. Ultimately, what really gets the public's attention is the striker position.
Admittedly, despite the theoretical firepower of the current squad, not a single one of the four forwards has delivered on the arguably high expectations so far this season.
Despite a promising start, Gareth Bale has spent more time injured than on the pitch. Karim Benzema seems as absent and unreliable as ever. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the middle of reinventing his own game, which sometimes works but sometimes doesn't. And with less playing time than he expected, Alvaro Morata mixes great cameos with poor ones.
The name on every Madrid journalist's mind is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Borussia Dortmund striker made an impression when his side visited the Bernabeu back in December, and due to the lack of spark of the current forward line, most supporters dream with the mobility and speed the Gabonese displayed during his debut in Madrid.
President Florentino Perez might very well be intending to compensate for the ban by making a splash in June, though the round of contract renovations he is about to complete (Bale, Cristiano, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, for example) doesn't leave much space for additional high salaries.
Hopefully, in a departure from previous summers, he'll start strengthening the weak links of a very complete squad and will refrain from flashy signings until they're really needed.
Eduardo is one of ESPN FC's Real Madrid bloggers and has been a socio since 1995. Follow him on Twitter @alvarez.