Ranking 10 Real Madrid Players with Biggest Point to Prove in Pre-Season
With a number of Real Madrid's players ready to return from international duty at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Los Blancos will turn their attention to the club's upcoming pre-season schedule.
Wedged around the last of those fixtures are Real Madrid's pending clash with La Liga rivals Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup, as well as the Spanish Super Cup encounter against Atletico Madrid that will begin on August 20.
And while stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale have little to gain from Real Madrid's pre-season, there are a number of Ancelotti's players with a point to prove.
Across the following slides, we rank those who will be eager to perform well in the team's build-up to the 2014-15 season.
Like a number of his teammates, Casemiro looks increasingly likely to depart Real Madrid before the summer transfer window closes, according to Marca.
But the Brazilian midfielder was still involved in the team's second pre-season training session this week, suggesting he could still be with the club for a little while yet until a deal is confirmed.
According to Spanish sports daily AS, as relayed by Inside Spanish Football, Casemiro is likely to be involved in the deal to land Colombian World Cup sensation James Rodriguez from Monaco.
The report indicates that Monaco were seeking Pepe or Fabio Coentrao as part of the deal, but it looks like the Ligue 1 club might be forced to settle for the 22-year-old midfielder instead.
Thus, it's plausible that the rarely played Brazilian could be given significant playing time in Real Madrid's pre-season campaign, with a view to boosting the player's appeal to Monaco, increasing the likelihood of a deal being reached.
A good performance or two could boost his chances of playing a prominent role at his possible new club.
Of course, it was just earlier this month that young defender, Nacho, penned a new six-year deal with Real Madrid, tying him to the club until the 2020-21 season, per Inside Spanish Football.
While that suggests the 24-year-old's future in the Spanish capital is relatively secure, it doesn't mean the emerging centre-back doesn't have something to prove this pre-season.
Eager to justify the faith shown in him by the club's hierarchy, Nacho will want to use a strong showing in the side's build-up to the new season to push for more regular playing time in 2014-15.
The local youth product who was officially promoted to the senior squad last summer, still sits behind Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Raphael Varane in Carlo Ancelotti's pecking order at the back.
Additionally, as reported by Inside Spanish Football, Los Blancos are interested in signing Real Sociedad star Inigo Martinez as possible cover for Varane, should the Frenchman look elsewhere for more opportunities.
Nacho, therefore, will want to prove he's every bit as capable as Martinez in the lead-up to the coming season.
8. Asier Illarramendi
After struggling to make a significant impression at the Bernabeu last season following a switch from Real Sociedad, Los Blancos are considering sending out Asier Illarramendi on loan for the upcoming campaign.
While it's unclear what Illarramendi would prefer at this stage, a strong pre-season campaign with his current club would be desirable for all parties.
Given that Carlo Ancelotti seems reluctant to sell the 24-year-old, the manager would be buoyed by a string a positive performances in upcoming fixtures, should a temporary move away from Real Madrid not come to fruition immediately.
Strong early-season form would also please Porto, who, led by Julen Lopetegui in 2014-15, will be looking to reclaim their league title after a third-placed finish last season.
7. Toni Kroos
Seemingly set to arrive for a reported fee of £20 million, the German will be keen to prove to his new club that he's the elite and versatile midfield package Real Madrid are looking for, particularly amid the uncertainty surrounding incumbent stars such as Angel di Maria and Sami Khedira.
It had also been reported by Spanish newspaper El Confidencial, as relayed by GiveMeSport, that one of Kroos' reasons for seeking an exit from Bavaria was his displeasure at not being offered equal wages to Bayern newcomers such as Javi Martniez, Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski.
If that is the case, the 24-year-old will be looking to show not only his new club, but also Pep Guardiola's team that letting him go was the wrong move.
6. Karim Benzema
It seems a little absurd that Karim Benzema needs to prove something in the early part of Real Madrid's 2014-15 campaign, but curiously, that's the way it feels.
Indeed, after netting 17 goals and making nine assists in La Liga last season, per WhoScored.com, as well as his impressive performances for France at the World Cup, the 26-year-old's standing at Los Blancos should be high.
The sublime chemistry that the striker developed with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale should also place Benzema among the club's most indispensable players.
But reports continue to swirl, suggesting that the Frenchman's future in the Spanish capital is far from certain, with the club perhaps looking to offload the striker in their high-profile pursuits of James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao.
Thus, it seems that Benzema might need to remind Florentino Perez of his value to the side during the team's pre-season—provided he's still at Real Madrid when it arrives—particularly the way his play perfect complements the skills of the devastating athletes that flank him on either side.
5. Xabi Alonso
Xabi Alonso's importance to Real Madrid was illustrated by Los Blancos' form without the veteran Spaniard in the early part of last season.
Missing his supreme ability to sit centrally and distribute the ball to the flanks with pinpoint accuracy, Carlo Ancelotti's side didn't hit top gear in the opening weeks of their La Liga campaign.
Without his robust tackling, the team's midfield also lacked physicality and grunt—aspects that were restored upon his return from injury.
However, after a pair of disappointing performances with Spain at this summer's World Cup, there's a sense that Alonso's game could be approaching a point of decline, particularly given the way both Netherlands and Chile harassed the 32-year-old with blistering speed to dispossess him, launching counter-attacks into the spaces behind.
Such a blueprint could be utilised by Real's opponents in 2014-15, should the former Liverpool star display any similar signs of vulnerability in the team's pre-season campaign.
Consequently, Alonso needs to prove that his lack of athleticism that was exposed somewhat in Brazil isn't going to be a lingering concern for Ancelotti this season.
4. Luka Modric
It's undeniable that Luka Modric's 2013-14 season under Carlo Ancelotti was vastly more impressive than his previous campaign under Jose Mourinho.
After taking some time to settle into his role at the Bernabeu following his switch from Tottenham, the Croatia international became a source of consistency for Real Madrid last season, combining nicely with Xabi Alonso in the centre of Ancelotti's team.
But the arrival of Germany star Toni Kross from Bayern Munich will provide Modric with genuine competition as the side's central playmaker in 2014-15, placing a greater emphasis on the 28-year-old's pre-season than what would have been the case otherwise.
If you exclude performances in slightly altered positions, Kroos scored five goals and made seven assists across all competitions as a central midfielder in 2013-14, while Modric recorded one and seven, respectively (both stats via WhoScored.com)
While it's possible that Ancelotti could push one of the pair further ahead into an attacking midfield position, it seems more likely that Modric will be fighting with Kroos for the starting position centrally, meaning he'll have plenty to prove in his side's upcoming fixtures.
The task for Marcelo in Real Madrid's pre-season games is simple: Prove to Carlo Ancelotti that his ghastly performances in the dying stages of Brazil's World Cup campaign aren't set to become a recurring theme.
While all of his teammates were just as awful, it will have been a concern for the Real Madrid hierarchy to see their left-back look so helpless defensively against Germany in the now-infamous 7-1 semi-final rout.
Seemingly incapable or unwilling to carry out his defensive duties, the Brazilian was regularly caught out marauding up the left flank, allowing Philipp Lahm to cut the hosts to shreds in the space left behind.
On the occasions the 26-year-old did track back, he consistently found himself disjointed from the rest of the back four, which saw the home side's defensive line horribly torn apart.
With Fabio Coentrao recovering from his injury picked up during Portugal's stint in Brazil, Marcelo will be Ancelotti's obvious choice at left-back for the pre-season.
A sharp improvement on his recent form is urgently required.
2. Alvaro Arbeloa
Following an injury-interrupted season in 2013-14 that cost him a place in Vicente del Bosque's Spain squad for the World Cup, Alvaro Arbeloa will want to make a fast start to the new campaign.
In his absence last season, 22-year-old Daniel Carvajal excelled as Carlo Ancelotti's right-back, using his speed and dribbling ability as an aggressive full-back to add another dynamic to Real Madrid's attacking play.
However, Carvajal still has improvements to make as a defender, particularly in a positional sense, meaning Ancelotti is unlikely to consider Arbeloa as excess to requirements just yet.
The 31-year-old, therefore, will need to prove to the Italian boss that he remains a more reliable option at the back than his more youthful counterpart throughout the team's pre-season.
Possibly assisting the former Spain international will be the manager's likely desire to tighten Real's defence, given that their figure of 38 goals conceded in La Liga was well above the numbers recorded by Barcelona (33) and Atletico Madrid (26) last season.
1. Iker Casillas
According to Spanish daily El Confidencial, as relayed by Inside Futbol, Real Madrid want to resolve Iker Casillas' situation by the beginning of August, with it looking increasingly likely that the shot-stopper will depart the Bernabeu.
Yet, whether he's staying or going, no player in Real Madrid's squad has more to prove in the upcoming pre-season—provided he's still involved in the opening stages of it—than veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
After being relegated behind Diego Lopez for much of the last two domestic campaigns, the Spain international endured a horrific tournament at this summer's World Cup.
Against Louis van Gaal's rampant Dutch outfit, Vicente del Bosque's No. 1 gifted Robin van Persie his second goal and his team's fourth, completing a disastrous touch that fed the ball straight to the Manchester United striker with the net wide open.
In his team's subsequent match against the Chileans, it was Casillas' inability to claim a routine catch that saw Charles Aranguiz seize on a loose ball in the box to net the decisive second goal for Jorge Sampaoli's side.
And that all came after the keeper's blunder in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid in May, which almost cost Los Blancos their European crown.
If Casillas is given any chances by Carlo Ancelotti in the pre-season, he simply must prove he's still got what it takes to impress potential suitors.