Under the guidance of Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid have developed into an increasingly functional team. Evidence of this is seen in the fact they are one point away from the LaLiga title and have a chance to become the first successive Champions League winners since AC Milan achieved the feat in 1990.
This functionality is the result of pragmatism from the manager, whose introduction of Casemiro to midfield has allowed for a more stable side with fewer holes between defence and attack. And this mentality appears to have infiltrated the club’s transfer policy, too.
Within Real Madrid’s transfer targets, there are several big names, including Chelsea star Eden Hazard. However, there are also a number of lesser known talents, as well as more sensible targets, players who don’t quite fit the Galactico brand.
Courtois is a first-choice and key team member of the Premier League champions and one of Europe’s finest footballing nations. The Chelsea and Belgium star is also an ex-Atlético Madrid player, lending a tint of controversy to the rumours linking him with a move to Real Madrid.
The 25-year-old is experienced at the highest level, yet still relatively young for a goalkeeper. It’s also highly likely that he would only come for an extravagant transfer fee. But, in spite of all the above, he is not Galactico material. His signature wouldn’t provoke dropping jaws, but knowing nods.
Real Madrid have needed a goalkeeper for quite some time. Keylor Navas has filled the void well but the Costa Rican has made glaring errors in positioning and decision-making that suggest a higher calibre operator is needed in the position.
Courtois lacks the promise of AC Milan’s 18-year-old sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma, and he also lacks the name of Spanish international David de Gea. He also doesn’t fit into the modern sweeper-keeper cult. But he’s a solid, commanding shot-stopper, and that’s exactly what Los Blancos need.
Another Atlético player, Hernàndez has impressed while on loan at Alaves this season. His displays at left-back have made him a pivotal part of LaLiga’s surprise package in 2016/17 – the Basque outfit currently sit ninth in the table and are in the Copa del Rey final.
The 19-year-old has caught the eye of several clubs as a result of his powerful and incisive forward forays. But Real Madrid are favourites for his signature.
Signing Hernàndez would suggest a longer term ethos in the club’s transfer market strategy, something that has been lacking in the past. It would also ensure that buccaneering 29-year-old left-back Marcelo departs, his replacement is already on hand.
Monaco were one of the most fascinating teams to watch in Europe throughout 2016/17. Their exhilarating, intense attacking game produced an abundance of goals and stunned the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund on route to the Champions League semi-finals.
Lemar was an instrumental figure in the team’s Ligue 1 title success and European run. In league action, only Falcao and Kylian Mbappé directly contributed to more goals than his nine strikes and nine assists, while his average of 2.1 key passes per game is a team-high.
Nonetheless, Lemar’s arrival would bolster the club’s ranks with extra creativity and off-the-ball movement in and around the final third.
By May 24, most fans of European football will be aware of Sanchez. The Colombian centre-back has starred for Ajax in his debut year in Dutch football, helping them to the Europa League final, where they will face José Mourinho’s Manchester United.
Strong, fast and imposing, the 20-year-old has avoided central defensive stereotypes by also proving himself to be a composed player on the ball, one capable of winning possession back and progressing it.
Sanchez has reportedly been courted by many of the continent’s top sides, including Barcelona, and Real Madrid are also said to be interested. Were he to move to the Spanish capital, his combination of physical, technical and tactical traits could make him a suitable successor to Pepe.
Dortmund’s campaign may have been marred by managerial uncertainty and poor league performance but they remain one of the most intriguing young sides in Europe right now. And Weigl is, in the eyes of many, the jewel in their crown.
Quick of both foot and thought, he revels in tight spaces and is capable of threading precise passes through opposition pressure from a deep-lying playmaker position. For all of these reasons, he has been compared to Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets.
Thomas Tuchel on 21-year-old, Julian Weigl:
"He's a bit like Sergio Busquets. He's a bit like Xabi Alonso." pic.twitter.com/ex9Lrkf9Ou
— Scouted Football (@ScoutedFtbl) May 9, 2017
But Weigl may end up a fierce rival of his Catalan comparison. Real Madrid are said to want the 21-year-old German. Should they sign him he would act as a more sophisticated defensive midfielder in place of, or alongside, Casemiro.
A 22-year-old midfielder who doesn’t always start for Napoli may not sound like the typical Real Madrid transfer target. But Zielinski has been linked with the Spanish giants regardless. For those who have paid close attention to the Pole, the rumours aren’t without merit.
One of many to come through Udinese’s renowned scouting and recruitment production line, he moved to Naples last summer following an exceptional loan spell with Empoli. His fierce enthusiasm and energy, along with an ability to break the lines with dribbles and passes, stood out particularly in Tuscany.
Nowadays, Zielinski often finds himself vying with Allan for a place in the Napoli starting line-up. However, he has the skill and potential to make a regular berth his own and move on to bigger things down the line.
With Luka Modrìc, at 31, potentially coming to the end of his peak years, the time is ripe for Real Madrid to identify his replacement. Zielinski, with his dynamism, vigour and penetrative attacking, could be their ultimate choice.