The January transfer window is still some way off, but already clubs will be scouring the continent for potential additions, looking to see which long-term targets are continuing to impress and assessing their own squads for weaknesses.
For Real Madrid, the task of bringing in new talent isn't an easy one.
They're an elite side with a huge squad, and the better they get as a group, the fewer potential options there are out there to improve it—but on the evidence of the start of this season's La Liga campaign, improve it they must if the Santiago Bernabeu club want to retain their title.
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Zinedine Zidane is still out here breaking records 🙌 https://t.co/l6BmkwY9X92017-10-2 20:08:00
Madrid sit fifth, seven points off leaders and rivals Barcelona after seven league games. It's not an insurmountable gap at this stage, but there's also little room for error, and gaps in the squad will need to be filled one way or another.
So we're asking the question: Just who could Real Madrid add in January from La Liga, with manager Zinedine Zidane preferring of late to bring in Spanish-based players including Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos?
It's reasonably straightforward: La Liga-based players who can add to or improve this Real Madrid squad—but from outside the elite, usual top three.
That means no signings from rival clubs Atletico Madrid or Barcelona.
While Theo's summer move indicates that Atleti-to-Real moves aren't forbidden entirely, as had been the case for years beforehand, that was a one-off where Los Blancos were able to exploit a reasonably low release clause (plus a bit extra for goodwill measure) rather than a trade path we should expect to be repeatedly followed.
As for Barcelona, transfers between the two clubs are infrequent in the extreme, and with Real the dominant force over the last couple of years, it's unreasonable to think Barca would want to let their rivals have anyone at all.
Other than that, no Real Madrid players are to be sold to accommodate our targets, rather it's a player who should add to what's already in place for Zidane and Co.
Where are Madrid lacking?
There are two very clear areas of the team that need reinforcements: right-back and centre-forward.
Zidane's squad is deep; perhaps no other club in Europe can boast the midfield options his can, and that's true whether the boss opts for a 4-3-3 system or plays the diamond midfield, with two strikers.
But while Theo and Marcelo give options and quality on the left of defence, Dani Carvajal is the only natural option at right-back. His current absence means Achraf Hakimi is getting a chance, and it may well be that he proves more than capable of keeping his place for some time.
Giving youth a chance is important, but to compete at the elite end, Madrid need another option—especially if Carvajal's illness is a prolonged one or necessitates a long recovery period.
Up front, the sales of Mariano and Alvaro Morata have left Madrid short, with Karim Benzema's injury recently proving the point.
Borja Mayoral has promise, and Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale have both shown they can play through the middle together, but a more natural No. 9 alternative is a must if Madrid want to go deep in Europe and retain their domestic league title, too.
Options in La Liga
Bearing in mind the players need to be of a standard so that Madrid don't drop points when they're relied upon, there aren't dozens of suitable options—but there are some.
For a full-back option, the first place to look could be Real Sociedad.
Alvaro Odriozola has been tremendous since breaking through last season, displacing squad rivals including Aritz Elustondo—now playing centrally—and making the position his own.
Now 21, he would fit the profile of Zidane and Real looking at young, technically gifted Spanish players to bring through alongside the elite starters. Jesus Vallejo, Ceballos and Mayoral are all benefiting from that approach by being included in Madrid's squad this season.
There are alternatives, of course. Sebastian Corchia of Sevilla is a well-rounded, offensive-minded right-back—but he has only just joined the Andalucian side.
At Celta Vigo, Hugo Mallo is a good top-tier standard player, though falls short of Real Madrid quality. While he'd offer cover and depth as a rotation player in the same standing as Kiko Casilla for example, would it actually be worthwhile bringing him in and blocking Achraf's limited opportunities? Some fans might feel not. The same goes for Roberto Rosales of Malaga.
Up front, the demands are even greater at Real Madrid.
There are two options in the transfer market: the promising youngster who can be developed further or the experienced senior who is a proven source of goals—but won't mind being on the bench more often than not.
In the first category, Real Betis' Tonny Sanabria and Celta's Maxi Gomez are options. Both have started '16/17 in good form and among the goals for their team.
For a more experienced option, Villarreal's Carlos Bacca or Cedric Bakambu could be considerations, along with Real Sociedad's Willian Jose.
In choosing just one, Real Madrid's objectives for the season have to be taken into account. And for them to win trophies, they must win games and thus score goals every time—so the centre-forward has to be the way to go.
The best call would be to sign Real Sociedad's Willian Jose.
While nobody would label him an elite No. 9 in the mould of overseas options such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Robert Lewandowski or even Madrid's own departed Morata, the Brazilian is a truly competent attacker, not at all out of place toward the top of La Liga.
There are many factors that point toward him being the right choice, as an alternative and back-up to Benzema.
Willian Jose has great movement, as might be expected of an attacker who wasn't always seen as a striker. At Real Zaragoza and Las Palmas, he played just behind the main No. 9 with some frequency, dropping between the lines to link play and then attacking from deep.
Later, once he had established himself as key to Las Palmas' lineup in the second half of 2015/16, he was used higher upfield, scoring eight times in the second half of the campaign. From then on, he has rarely played anywhere except up front, but he hasn't lost that ability to drop in and spin behind to create space for himself.
Likewise, he works the channels extremely well—something he has in common with Benzema—and is happy to hold up play and link with his wider team-mates, rather than having a sole goalscoring focus.
At Madrid in particular, that would be a wise trait to have, given the propensity for shooting that the wide forwards tend to have.
Willian Jose's goal tally isn't poor, though he's not going to trouble those aiming for the Pichichi either. Nine for Las Palmas, a dozen for La Real last term, three in seven games so far this year. It's a reasonable tally in sides that haven't been free-scoring by any means.
It's also worth noting he has come to the fore in big matches for his sides.
Celta Vigo and Villarreal have felt his killer touch this term; he celebrated against each of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia (three goals in two games) in '16/17.
One year earlier, at Las Palmas, he even scored against Real Madrid—and Barca and his future side Real Sociedad. So the big stage isn't an issue for a player who is clever but also hard-working and a willing runner.
Of course, it won't be a cheap operation; the 25-year-old renewed with La Real at the beginning of this season and his release clause now stands at €60 million, per Marca (in Spanish), but there's no doubt room to manoeuvre there.
A fine player, a reliable forward, a source of goals and doubtless someone who would jump at the opportunity to step up a level, even knowing he'd begin life as second-choice striker.
Willian Jose makes a lot of sense as a Real Madrid signing and is one of the best options they could hope to find outside of La Liga's elite.