Predicting Real Madrid's First-Choice Starting XI for the 2013-14 Season
Things did not go according to plan for Real Madrid last season. After relinquishing the La Liga title to Barcelona, crashing out of the Champions League and choking in the Copa del Ray finale, Los Blancos are looking for redemption this campaign.
Carlo Ancelotti has arrived and will look to mix things up on the pitch. Without much bias, Ancelotti should be able to assess his squad accurately.
While the addition of new talent will create competition for spots, some familiar names will continue to hold their roles.
The following is a prediction of Real Madrid's best starting XI, assuming that all options and players are healthy and available.
This was a close call. Diego Lopez put in worthy performances while Casillas was out, but I believe that Casillas will be reinstated as Madrid's No. 1.
Despite a tumultuous season and a difficult relationship with Jose Mourinho, the captain's past accomplishments speak to what he is capable of.
It won't be easy, though. Mark Doyle of Goal reported comments made by Ancelotti that suggested talent—not history—would dictate who plays.
The Italian manager stated, "Casillas is a great player. He has won everything. But the rules of football are what they are: if he deserves it, he will play."
Lopez is a great player, but when Casillas is at his best, he simply can't be beat.
Los Blancos greatly missed Marcelo's energy on the left side of defense. The Brazilian left-back brings athleticism and mobility to the the wing, and he pushes up in attack often.
While Fabio Coentrao provided decent cover in his absence, he could not imitate the same chemistry Marcelo has developed with Cristiano Ronaldo over the years.
After a good showing at the Confederations Cup this summer, expect Marcelo to feature at left-back for Real Madrid this season.
At 21 years of age, Dani Carvajal will have plenty of time to develop. But, with Alvaro Arbeloa producing unconvincing displays on a regular basis, Carvajal might be thrust into a starting role before long.
A Madrid product, Carvajal spent last season at Bayer Leverkusen, where he made the right-back spot his own. The Spaniard made 32 league appearances for Leverkusen, recording one goal and eight assists along the way.
Skillful on the ball and willing to push up the pitch, Carvajal will add another bit of creativity to Madrid when they are in possession. With highlights like these, he could develop into an important asset for Madrid this year.
Pepe was dropped by Jose Mourinho, but his tenacious defending remains vital to Madrid's defense.
Ian Herbert of the Independent reported that Manchester City attempted to negotiate a transfer for Pepe earlier this summer. But Carlo Ancelotti refused any talks—showing the faith he has in the Portuguese defender.
Raphael Varane will provide ample cover, but at 30 years of age, Pepe's experience will help him lock down the starting role yet again.
Sergio Ramos has developed into a fantastic central defender. With his incredible athleticism, Ramos is capable of bullying strikers of all sizes. His pace helps him recover, but his tactical awareness has improved in the last few years.
Ramos was a bright spot for Spain at the Confederations Cup and will no doubt continue to lead the defense for Los Blancos.
The 27-year-old also chips in on the offensive end of the pitch. A strong aerial threat, Ramos scored four league goals this season to go along with one in Europe.
Real Madrid will miss him at the beginning of this season—his groin injury will keep him out early on—but Alonso will surely be a starter in the double pivot for Madrid.
His calm technique in possession is vital to the squad's success, and his keen eye for the long pass can unlock the defense for a counterattack.
Alonso is well into his prime and will help lead Madrid to victory when he returns from his setback.
While Illarramendi is the long-term replacement for Xabi Alonso, I think the two can work together when both are fit.
Operating as a double pivot, Alonso and Illarramendi can dictate play from deep-lying positions, and take turns pushing forward into the attack.
The 23-year-old was fantastic for Real Sociedad last season. His work-rate and composure were driving forces behind Sociedad's push for Champions League football.
His statistics from last season are quite impressive. Illarramendi averaged nearly four tackles and over two interceptions per game while recording a passing rating of 80 percent and completing at least one key pass per match, according to WhoScored.com.
He will provide cover in front of the back four and combine with Alonso to form a formidable midfield pairing.
The German should continue to be the creative influence through the center of the pitch. He transitions from defense to attack and is always looking for the killer pass around the box.
Ozil's chemistry with Karim Benzema and Ronaldo contributes heavily to goals, and at just 24 years of age he is still heading into his prime. His passing rate of over 84 percent reflects how smart the German is on the ball, via WhoScored.com.
With nine goals and 13 assists in La Liga, Ozil is a key man in the middle for Madrid.
After yet another summer of transfer speculation, it looks as if Ronaldo will be staying at Madrid for the time being.
That should be music to the ears of Madridistas. Ronaldo is simply one of the best goal-scorers the game has ever seen. Last season, he scored 34 league goals and added 12 in the Champions League.
Ronaldo is critical to Madrid's counterattacking style, and his searing pace makes him a nightmare for defenders. I think it's safe to say Ronaldo will be a feature in the side as long as he wants to be there.
The new signing is a versatile attacking threat, but he could well find a home on the right wing. He will have fierce competition from Angel Di Maria, but his short bursts of speed and clever technique might just push him over the edge.
With nine goals and an assist in La Liga last season, Isco is talented going forward. His passing rate of nearly 85 percent indicates that despite his ability to run at players, he rarely loses possession, via WhoScored.com.
Di Maria will not give up his spot easily, but Isco's talent might be enough to give him the starting role.
After splitting time with Gonzalo Higuain for years, it finally looks as if Benzema has made the starting role his own. Over the past two seasons he has really come into form and has the pace to spearhead the attack.
Benzema appeared 30 times in league play, recording 11 goals and 11 assists. He is a good finisher but can also provide support when Ronaldo and others surge forward.
This flexibility—both a goal scorer and a playmaker—makes him an important aspect of the Madrid's offense. Unless Madrid complete a move for a big-name striker, it will be Benzema leading the line next season.