Real Madrid need to strengthen key positions in order to challenge for La Liga
To say that the 2012/13 season was a massive disappointment for Real Madrid is to state the obvious.
Ignoring the Champions League exit at the semifinal stage for the third year in a row, and the Copa Del Rey final defeat on their own patch to crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid, perhaps the area that will give Madridistas most cause for concern was the team's La Liga form.
At the end of the 2011/12 season Real Madrid won La Liga by a nine-point margin, with Barcelona a distant second.
For large parts of that season they were magnificent and unstoppable, steamrolling anyone who stepped in their way.
A record 121 La Liga goals scored, record number of wins, record goal difference and record points total of 100 were testament to just how good Real Madrid were throughout the season.
Yet fast-forward just 12 months, and Real lost this season's edition to Barcelona by a record 15-point margin, La Blaugrana equalling the 100-point total set only the year before.
An astonishing "swing" of 24 points in just a year.
For a team with such a proud history as Real Madrid, that is clearly not acceptable.
So, when the dust has settled on this disastrous campaign, thoughts will turn to the transfer window.
Who will President Florentino Perez and Sporting Director Zinedine Zidane add to a squad already bristling with talent?
Let's take a look at where Madrid can strengthen over the course of the summer to ensure they hit the ground running come the opening La Liga fixtures in August.
Pepe's place could be at risk
With the emergence of Raphael Varane during the course of the season, Real found themselves with an embarrassment of riches in the central defensive areas.
Varane's astonishingly quick rise to prominence could not have been predicted, and the ease with which he made the transition to the first team was surely manna from heaven for Jose Mourinho and his management team.
Despite his penchant for the unnecessary, Pepe is still a formidable athlete and consummate defender, and alongside Varane and record-breaking Spain star Sergio Ramos, it is difficult to foresee that any changes would be necessary in that central defensive area of the pitch.
Perhaps it is on either side of the defensive line where some new blood is required.
With Charles Perrin of The Express reporting that Fabio Coentrao could be on his way to England, and Alvaro Arbeloa not having enjoyed his best season, a fully-fit Marcelo is realistically the only left-back then available.
On the opposite side, Raul Albiol is another who has not lived up to expectations.
There is potential for canterano Nacho to slot in on the right side, but the youngster is still finding his feet at the top level.
Although Michael Essien had covered the position on occasion before, his return to Chelsea rules him out of the equation.
If Madrid expect to be challenging again they must recruit well in the right areas and not look to shuttle players around, "plugging holes" in the short term.
It is worth noting, however, that Sergio Ramos was converted from right-back to central defender.
He is equally adept at both roles, and it could be in any new manager's mind that there is a way in which Ramos, Pepe and Varane can all operate together.
Is Luka Modric heading out of the Santiago Bernabeu?
Ask Madridistas halfway through the season who they would have quite happily sold, and Luka Modric would have been high on the list.
Similarly, Mesut Ozil has enjoyed a wonderful season in the Madrid midfield. The 91 chances he created for his teammates was by far the most of any Madrid player.
According to Goal.com, Kaka has stated a desire to stay at the Santiago Bernabeu in order to prove himself, but unless the new managerial appointment wishes to "wipe the slate clean" and give all players an equal chance, Kaka's hopes are wildly optimistic.
Xabi Alonso still knows how to pick a pass and put his foot in when needed—but he is not getting any younger.
Although he will now get a summer break owing to being omitted from Spain's participation in the Confederations Cup, long-standing back problems will mean that Alonso needs to be managed well throughout the season in order to complete it.
The new manager would do well to pay particular attention, therefore, to Alonso's position, with one eye on the future.
Sami Khedira would certainly be the ready-made replacement, but the addition of another young and dynamic holding midfielder may be key to Real Madrid's fortunes.
Perhaps one in the mould of Benat Etxebarria from Real Betis, a player who has stated a desire to move from his current employers.
One player who will not make the cut for next year is Angel Di Maria. He has already been put up for sale by Madrid after a disappointing campaign, according to Metro, so we can expect to see a new left-sided player for Los Blancos for the coming season.
Cristiano Ronaldo needs a first-class striker to partner with
Madrid's attack is destined to be much changed for the new season.
Cristiano Ronaldo will again provide the focal point of much of the attacking thrust but will be supplemented by at least one—if not two—new striking partners.
A front three that scored 89 goals between them in the 2011/12 season (surpassing the great Madrid attacking trios of the past) were expected to produce the goods again last season.
Ronaldo was more than up to the task, but both Karim Benzema and to a lesser extent Gonzalo Higuain have disappointed.
Football-Italia reports that the latter is determined to leave Madrid, and that may go some way to answering the question as to his form last season.
Benzema scored a paltry nine La Liga goals, and in order to retain a starting berth, he must get back to the form he showed the previous season.
Suarez could be the perfect foil for the more direct Ronaldo. His movement, style and in-game intelligence would complement the Real Madrid front line perfectly, and his industrious work ethic is likely to ignite the passion from the working man on the terraces.
As Bale has shown at Tottenham Hotspur over the last couple of seasons, his star burns brighter each year, and a marauding Bale down the left-hand side is a thought that truly whets the appetite.
Who will replace Jose Mourinho?
If there is one thing that seems to follow Real Madrid around like a bad penny, it is the internal wranglings year after year and a propensity to change managers at will.
The divisions between the squad and management team were never better highlighted than the past season, and it may not be too far from the truth to suggest that the behind-the-scenes upheaval had much to do with the disappointments throughout.
Mourinho fell out with many of his star names at one point or another, and whilst he doesn't need to be everyone's friend, the role of any successful manager is to get the very best from his pool of talent.
That Mourinho failed to do that so spectacularly, given the highlights of the previous 12 months, answers many questions as to the atmosphere that pervades throughout the club.
I didn't have a voice or a vote at Madrid. They sign the best players, but not the best players needed in a certain position. It’s no good having an orchestra with the 10 best guitarists if I don’t have a pianist.
Real Madrid have the best guitarists, but if I ask them to play the piano they won’t be able to do it so well. He [Pérez] sold players that I considered important.
We didn't win the Champions League because we didn't have a squad properly structured to be able to win it.
Read that passage again and it's clear what needs to change both at board and managerial level.
An astute managerial appointment is perhaps the biggest transfer Real Madrid will make during the close season.
What do you think?
Who would you bring in on the management and playing side to bring the glory back to the Santiago Bernabeu?