REAL Madrid spent over €300 million on fresh new talents last summer, aiming to significantly shake up a squad which won four of five Champions Leagues then grown old together and had a horrorshow 2018/19.
A younger, hungrier Madrid squad was to bring glory back to the Bernabeu as part of what returning coach Zinedine Zidane predicted would be a ‘second project’. So how is it going so far? Not so great, as a look at the six new arrivals to get pitch time so far shows…
Eden Hazard – €100 million
685 minutes [out of possible total of 1260]
After arriving overweight for pre-season, Hazard missed the first month of the campaign proper due to injury. The former Chelsea star's first competitive 90 minutes in a Madrid shirt was mid-September’s 0-3 Champions League group opener defeat at Paris Saint-Germain. Things could only get better from there, and they have done, to a point. A sweetly taken first goal for Madrid in a win at home to Granada seemed to show he was starting to settle, but the 30-year-old has yet to look as sharp or confident as you would expect.
Hazard does not yet seem fully sure of himself in his new surroundings, and his teammates have not yet worked out how to play to his strengths. Just one goal and three assists over his first three months was not exactly what everyone at the Bernabeu was expecting. While the notoriously difficult to please crowd have been supportive so far, their patience will have a limit.
Madrid have breezed past Leganes 5-0 tonight and Eden Hazard got man of the match… But I'm really not sure why ♂️
Benzema was the real MOM. Again.
— Dean Jones (@DeanJonesBR) October 30, 2019
Ferland Mendy – €48 million
Mendy was seen on arrival from Lyon as someone who could well push veteran Marcelo out of the regular XI, but an injury pre-season allowed the older Brazilian to start the campaign as first choice. Mendy did get into the team when Marcelo had a neck problem himself, and had a decent La Liga debut during a 2-2 draw at Villarreal. But he was then was among those to suffer badly during the 0-3 disaster at PSG, and Zidane returned Marcelo to the team as soon as possible.
Given another chance against Real Betis last weekend, Mendy did not have a good game in a 0-0 draw. There was no sign of any understanding with Hazard ahead of him down the left, with neither able to get behind well organised five man defence. Marcelo, who has sharpened up considerably this season, still has the jersey.
Luka Jovic – €60 million
Very quiet and nervous at his presentation back in the summer, Jovic has barely made any impression on or off the pitch since. Of his 11 appearances in 2019/20, just three have been starts, and five have been very late and mostly pointless appearances off the bench. Not managing even one touch inside the opposition box when he started in last month’s 0-1 defeat at Mallorca was not good.
While the feeling that the 21-year-old is not in a good place currently was fed by a row with Serbia coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic during the September international break, it is difficult to blame Jovic himself, as Zidane does not seem clear how he wants to use a player whose 27 goals for Eintracht Frankfurt last season included all kinds of finishes. A long wait for his first Madrid goal finally ended when he headed home from close range against Levante recently, for the fifth in a 5-0 win. But there were whistles at the Bernabeu last Saturday when he replaced top-scorer Karim Benzema with seven minutes remaining and Betis defending a 0-0.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) October 30, 2019
Eder Militao – €50 million
Breaking into Zidane's first-choice centre-back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane was always going to be a challenge for a 21-year-old with just one season of European football in his boots. And so it has proved. Militao did replace Ramos when coming on for his La Liga debut – although that coincided with Levante almost coming from 0-3 down to get a draw [a recurring problem this season].
Militao's Champions League debut a few days later when the skipper was suspended for the defeat in Paris is still the most significant result of Madrid’s season so far. With Zidane also loyal to fellow countryman Varane, Militao’s only two full La Liga games so far have been a nervy 2-0 win at home to Osasuna, and then the 0-1 defeat when a much rotated team was out-fought at Mallorca. He showed at Porto last season that he could learn quickly when playing regularly, but barring injuries the Copa del Rey looks like his best chance to impress now.
Rodrygo Goes – €45 million
An injury picked up pre-season kept the 18-year-old former Santos starlet back from the first weeks of the season, and he was then introduced to Spanish football via the club’s Castilla youth team in the third tier. But Zidane was clearly impressed by what he saw in training, and everyone was wowed by a superbly taken goal within seconds of coming on for his La Liga debut against Osasuna in late September.
It was then back to Castilla, until Zidane recalled him to the squad for the Mallorca game, and then surprisingly gave him a first start in the crunch UCL group game at Galatasaray. Zidane’s faith was repaid with a composed and intelligent showing on the right wing in a much needed Madrid victory, and Rodrygo kept his place for a first LaLiga start at home to Leganes, when he showed a real striker’s instinct to open the scoring after just seven minutes.
Currently a member of Zidane’s preferred XI ahead of Jovic, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Isco and fellow Brazilian teenager Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo is the one clear success among Madrid’s new faces [even if his move had been agreed 12 months previously].
Alphonse Areola – loan
Arriving on deadline day from Paris Saint-Germain as Keylor Navas went the other way, Areola probably expected a quiet start to the season as back up to Thibaut Courtois. That seemed the case with a debut clean sheet when rotated in against Osasuna – who did not manage even one shot on target all game. Three days later came Courtois’ nightmare first half against Club Brugges, when the Belgian was substituted at half-time having been whistled by the Bernabeu after conceding two shock goals.
Areola made a vital save before Madrid got back to 2-2, and was immediately championed by troublemaking pundits who never forgave Courtois for ousting their favourite Navas. But then came Areola’s own horrorshow 45 minutes with a string of mistakes as Granada came back from 0-3 down to almost draw at the Bernabeu. Courtois returned to the XI for Madrid’s next game, and Areola has not played since.