Real Madrid continue to chase Champions League glory this season and are looking a safe bet for a runners-up spot in La Liga, but the biggest challenge might yet be ahead of them—keeping star forward Cristiano Ronaldo at the club.
The Portuguese attacker has been continually linked with a move away, most often back to former club Manchester United (via The Independent), but his astronomical transfer market value is cited as a determining factor in putting clubs off.
Even if Ronaldo does not move on this summer, with just two years left on his contract it is likely that Real will allow him to leave within the next 18 months to avoid losing their biggest asset for free.
Whenever he departs he will leave a gaping hole in the team's attack, meaning Real Madrid will have to work hard to bring in someone of adequate quality to replace him in the side. Here are five such names who could be the front-runners to fill Ronaldo's boots in Real Madrid's attack.
Ajax's latest youth prodigy is Danish forward Viktor Fischer.
The left-sided forward has been a revelation in his first full senior campaign, hitting 10 goals in all competitions and impressing both domestically and, as in impact substitute, in the Champions League.
Aged just 18 at present, another couple of campaigns in the Ajax side will doubtless see Fischer become one of the most sought-after players in the Eredivisie, making him a likely candidate if Ronaldo sticks around the Bernabeu until his contract is winding down.
If Real Madrid happen to be looking for someone with a little more immediate impact or proven history about them, then Chelsea's Eden Hazard could be their guy.
Whether playing from the left flank or as a central attacker, Hazard is a phenomenally gifted technical player, capable of beating opponents on the run or simply through pace when chasing through-passes.
He has also shown he can add goals to his game this term, scoring 12 in all competitions for Chelsea.
Hazard would be a terrific replacement for Ronaldo and, at age 22, will only get better over the next five or six years. He has even been linked with a move to Real Madrid in future, reportedly stating that he would love to play for them (via Goal.com).
If Real decide that the only way to replace Ronaldo in the club is to sign a player of equal standing in terms of commercial activity and headlines, and a player potentially close to him in terms of effect on the pitch, then Brazilian Neymar remains a possibility.
The Santos forward has been heavily linked to Barcelona over the past 12 months, but his representatives insist no deal is in place at present. Neymar himself says he would like to join a club such as Barca (via Goal.com).
Even so, there is no guarantee Barcelona will make that particular move, and Real Madrid would no doubt love to pounce if there is an opportunity to bring him in. He would cost a massive fee, but the return could be both immediate and impressive.
One of the most heavily linked names with Real Madrid over the last 12 months has been Tottenham Hotspur Gareth Bale.
The Welsh winger has operated both from the flanks and a more central zone this season and is rumoured to be a top target for Real (via Mirror) with a bid of up to £60 million forthcoming. Bale has been one of Spurs' top performers this season and is in the running for the Player of the Season award in the Premier League.
If Spurs give any indication that they will sell Bale this summer, it is likely that there will be a whole host of big clubs interested in signing him—but Real Madrid will certainly be at the forefront of that queue.
Our final man for the job is Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Marco Reus.
He has been in superb form for Dortmund this term, having made the move from Moenchengladbach last year. Reus has registered 11 goals and 11 assists in the Bundesliga and another three strikes in the Champions League this season.
Real Madrid would likely have to fork out around double the €17 million that Dortmund are reported to have paid for him, but the German has proved he is more than worth the fee. Reus has also kept up an impressive strike rate on the international stage, hitting seven in his 15 appearances for his nation so far.
At 23 years of age, his best is yet ahead of him—and he has already proved his quality in a big way.