Real Madrid have made contact with Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi, according to the player's agent, with Los Blancos quietly considering possible replacements for Sergio Ramos should the star defender make a surprise move away from the Bernabeu.
On Wednesday, Sid Lowe of the Guardian reported that Ramos told Real Madrid chief executive Jose Angel Sanchez he wants to leave the club, and on Saturday AS reported that Manchester United had made a bid of €60 million for Ramos—a player Real have given a €90 million price tag.
A complex financial and political tangle, the transfer saga surrounding the 29-year-old is likely to rumble on for some time, and at present it remains incredibly difficult to predict how it will unfold. But possible replacements are being identified, and Marca reports that Nicolas Otamendi tops Real Madrid's wish list in the event Ramos departs. Additionally, the Argentinian's Valencia team-mate Mustafi has also been viewed as a possible option.
"There has been an inquiry from Real Madrid," Mustafi's agent, Ali Bulut, told Bild (h/t Goal). "But there have not been any further talks." Bulut also said Barcelona had expressed an interest in the German during the 2014-15 season.
Below, we examine Mustafi's game to assess whether the Valencia centre-back would be a logical choice for Real Madrid.
After rising through the academy at Hamburg, Mustafi began his professional career at Everton, where he spent three almost seasons between 2009 and 2012 without ever making a Premier League appearance.
In 2012, he moved to Sampdoria, who were in Serie B at the time but won promotion to Serie A for the 2012-13 season. After spending his first year in Genoa as a secondary option, the German became a permanent fixture in Sinisa Mihajlovic's XI in 2013-14, before moving to Valencia last August.
Now 23, Mustafi also represented Germany at the World Cup after progressing through the nation's youth ranks from 2008 onward.
2014-15 Stat Line
|Shkodran Mustafi's 2014-15 Stats in La Liga|
|Aerials Won per Game||2.8|
|Tackles per Game||1.4|
|Interceptions per Game||2.9|
|Clearances per Game||6.8|
|Blocks per Game||0.5|
Though Real Madrid could possibly be forced to find a replacement for Ramos, Mustafi wouldn't be a like-for-like replacement for the Spain international.
Similar to the way in which Pepe has played a sweeper role at the Bernabeu alongside the more aggressive Ramos, Mustafi has performed a similar function alongside Otamendi at Valencia.
Indeed, Otamendi is very much in the Ramos mould—combative, quick across the ground, strong in the air, dangerous at set pieces—and has relished playing the proactive, front-foot role in Nuno Espirito Santo's preferred centre-back pairing.
As such, Mustafi has operated as the more conservative player in the partnership, mopping up behind the all-action Argentinian with his positional intelligence and well-timed interventions and clearances. In La Liga in 2014-15, his 6.8 clearances per game represented the fourth highest figure in the division, per WhoScored.com.
For the German the sweeper role is a natural fit, given that his game lacks the power and pace that define the likes of Ramos and Otamendi, as well as emerging defensive stars such as Raphael Varane and Jose Gimenez. Without the leg speed to combat and track down explosive forwards, Mustafi relies on his sharp reading of the play and one-on-one strength to impact games.
At Real Madrid, therefore, he'd likely be a better fit alongside Varane than Pepe, given that he performs a similar function to the Portuguese and would better complement the more dynamic Frenchman.
Does Mustafi Make Sense Over Otamendi?
Though Marca has indicated that Otamendi remains Real Madrid's preferred option in the event Ramos departs, signing the Argentinian would be somewhat problematic for Los Blancos, as we explained here at Bleacher Report this week:
Under UEFA regulations, clubs can only have three non-EU players. Following the arrival of Danilo from Porto, Real Madrid already have four in the form of the Brazilian right-back, Casemiro, Lucas Silva and James Rodriguez. Already, Silva looks the most likely to be forced out in the four-way battle for three spots, but Otamendi's arrival (the Argentinian is another non-EU player) would likely mean Casemiro has to depart as well.
Such a situation would strip Real Madrid of two players at one position (defensive midfield), forcing the club back into the transfer market for further additions when what Real really need is a summer of stability and a halt of the Bernabeu's revolving door of transfers.
Otamendi, of course, would be a more natural fit to replace Ramos, but Real Madrid would need to carefully weigh whether his arrival would be detrimental to balance of the midfield. Thus, Mustafi is a legitimate second option for the club, even if his arrival wouldn't generate the same excitement as that of his current Valencia team-mate.