This should have been a season of transition for Real Madrid. This should have been the season that they became less reliant on the old guard, on Luka Modric, on Sergio Ramos, on Marcelo, on Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead, they have become as reliant as ever on them, illustrated by what happened against Juventus on Wednesday night. Without Ronaldo, Real Madrid might have been toppled.
As it was, Zinedine Zidane’s side are still on course for a third successive Champions League title, with Ronaldo smashing home a stoppage time penalty kick to get Real Madrid out of the nightmare Juventus had created for them. They will take their place in the competition’s semi finals thanks, in no small part, to their number seven, who has found the net 15 times in 10 Champions League appearances this season.
But at 33 years old, Ronaldo is surely nearing the twilight of his career. The time for the next generation to rise to the top at Real Madrid is now, and in that sense Zidane will reflect on what has been a lost season. He has put much effort into bringing through young talent during his time in charge, but none have truly found their feet in the first team. Lucas Vazquez is the closest produced and he’ll be 27 this summer.
Much of the talk ahead of the 2017/18 was on the exciting, young generation that would soon to come to the fore at the Santiago Bernabeu. This hasn’t really materialised, though. Theo Hernandez has struggled since making the move from Atletico Madrid last summer. It’s almost as if Zidane has lost faith in the left back after a number of blunders, with Theo now a peripheral figure. Dani Ceballos is another who has toiled this season, failing to make an impression after joining from Real Betis.
Ceballos was hailed as one of Spanish football’s brightest young talents after his performance at the summer’s U21’s European Championships, but at times he has looked out of his depths at Real Madrid. It’s true that he has showed glimpses of his potential, with some arguing that Zidane should have given Ceballos more of a chance this season, but it’s fair to say he has so far failed to live up to his billing.
Then there’s Marcos Llorente, another young midfielder who has struggled for game time this season. Some Real Madrid fans have started a campaign, arguing that the 23-year-old should be more of a first team figure, but the truth of the matter is that he hasn’t done enough yet to force Zidane’s hand. It takes a lot to displace the likes of Modric, Toni Kroos, Casemiro and even Mateo Kovacic, and Ceballos and Llorente simply haven’t done enough.
Achraf Hakimi has started a number of games at right back, impressing at times, but only through necessity. He is Real Madrid’s only other option behind Dani Carvajal, so when the Spanish international suffered an injury earlier in the season Zidane had nowhere else to turn. Nonetheless, Achraf has, in a sense, taken his chances when they have come.
Jesus Vallejo was handed a starting place against Juventus, but again, only through necessity following the suspension of Sergio Ramos and Nacho Fernandez’s injury. The 21-year-old will learn from the experience, but he endured a difficult evening. There was little to suggest that he will become a first team figure at some point in the future.
In recent years, Real Madrid have left their ‘Galacticos’ identity behind. It’s been four years since the club last made a big money signing (when they spent £67.5 million on James Rodriguez), instead focussing on signing young, largely homegrown players. That strategy has yet to bear fruit, though, and as a result Real might be forced to pick up their old identity again. The ‘Galacticos’ might be about to return, if they ever really went away.
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.