With just two gameweeks left in La Liga before the winter break, thoughts will be turning to the new year: the second half of the season, the fight for major honours and, of course, the transfer window.
For some it will be a case of letting players leave; those who haven't produced or managed to work themselves into the manager's selections enough times.
Others might feel an extra body and injection of quality could be the difference between hitting the seasonal objectives or missing out. If that's the fine line between survival and relegation, or retaining the title and losing it to a bitter rival, braving the murky and often overpriced waters of winter negotiations could be worth it.
But there's an alternative opportunity, too, in both planning for the future and ensuring continuity for rest of the season—targeting players approaching the end of their contracts and luring them for next year.
For Real Madrid, that gateway is open to almost every player in the world. They have the prestige to lure top talent, the funds to offer heavy salaries and the manager and scouting staff in place who have a particular approach to recruitment.
Zinedine Zidane hasn't been heavy-handed in his approach to signing new players, instead preferring to look to the club's youth prospects in addition to one or two others along the way, but snaring a free transfer or two ahead of 2018/19 might be a route which appeals to him.
All over Europe, there will be names available from January onwards who would be well-suited to Real Madrid's needs.
Here, we identify five players Real Madrid should be seriously considering.
Miranda, Inter Milan
Signing a new centre-back won't be top of all Real Madrid fans' Christmas lists, but if the right option crops up it's a position the club should consider adding depth to.
Injuries and absences for Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane have again left Los Blancos short at the back this year, particularly when tied in with right-back Dani Carvajal being unavailable.
The progression of Jesus Vallejo is a delicate situation to balance, but even if he did get another season on loan at a good La Liga club next year, he'd have lots of time to bring his best level back to Madrid thereafter.
The loss of Pepe and his experience, aggression and solidity, has already been felt at times this season.
And that's where Miranda comes in.
The Brazil international has been imperious this term for Inter Milan, helping his team to the top of Serie A, and at 33 he has bags of know-how, including La Liga from his time at Atletico Madrid.
Snaring him for a year or two would represent excellent business. He would get plenty of game time because of the unreliable levels of availability of Madrid's current duo, and he's clearly a step or two up from Vallejo—and even Pepe.
According to Calciomercato.com, he's talking to the San Siro club about a new deal and that's a situation Madrid will face with a number of players in the final months of their contracts.
Miranda still has reasonable pace, is a tremendous reader of the game and has aggression in the air. He can be a real leader at the back—organisation is still something Madrid lack at times—and if Vallejo remained, it would do him good to learn from such a considerate and disciplined defender.
Nacho is good enough to be a first choice for Real Madrid or anywhere else, but it seems the Spaniard will forever be seen as a rotational starter, versatile to come in wherever required and then back on the bench.
For those stretches of games where consistency is everything and partnerships must remain in place, a veteran with a winning mentality on a free transfer can't be far off the best kind of signing available to Zidane.
Fernandinho, Manchester City
Frankly, it's astonishing Fernandinho hasn't got a new contract sorted at Manchester City yet, as he's integral to how they play under manager Pep Guardiola.
He's the holding midfielder, a rampaging destroyer who is comfortable in possession, elite in his reading of the game and a selfless performer who sets the platform for the attacking talent ahead of him.
As with others, talks are reportedly ongoing. Simon Mullock of the Sunday Mirror noted terms were agreed on extending his stay, but that was more than a month ago and still the Brazilian is set to be a free agent in the summer.
"One of the best...three holding midfield players" in world football was how Guardiola labelled Fernandinho, per the same source, and it's quite possible he was including Real Madrid's Casemiro as one of the other two.
So why would Real need Fernandinho?
He's cover when an alternative holder is required, but he's far more than that. Prior to joining City, Fernandinho was more of an offensive-minded player at Shakhtar Donetsk—he's capable of being a box-to-box runner, an attacking outlet as a No. 8 or even a supporting player in the channels, wider in a middle three.
The 32-year-old is astute tactically, while also being disciplined positionally and impressive on a technical level.
Zidane could find many uses for Fernandinho, if only because he's genuinely up there now as one of Europe's most complete and consistent performers in the middle of the park.
Need a partner for Luka Modric in a 4-4-2? No problem. Fernandinho brings athleticism, ball-winning ability and protection for the defence. What if Mateo Kovacic is out injured or even sold? The South American can do that role too. What happens if Toni Kroos is sidelined? The Brazilian's metronomic passing to clever playmakers who find space comes as standard.
Fernandinho is every midfield role built into one, and he would not look out of place in the white shirt—especially on a free transfer.
Kepa Arrizabalaga, Athletic Bilbao
We have spoken previously about how Real Madrid should be looking at goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, with Kiko Casilla's erratic form and Keylor Navas' fitness having provided worrying times over the last couple of months for Real Madrid.
An early signing of the Athletic Bilbao 'keeper gives him time to settle into his new surroundings ahead of an attack on the No. 1 jersey next season, but it could also be that the cost of bringing him in during the campaign, rather than on a free at the end of it, is prohibitive.
If so, it's of paramount importance Madrid simply get the work done in timely fashion to confirm his signature in the winter in order to bring him in over the summer.
Madrid clearly want a new stopper at some point in the near future, and the choices look limited to going for Kepa and developing further an already-excellent goalkeeper or paying out a fortune for one of the game's elite.
Kepa has safe hands, is brave and athletic, has good reflexes and decent distribution—all good starting points for a player who can still be moulded to play out the way Zidane wants him to.
Above all else, he's consistent—or has been over the last 12 months in La Liga anyway—and that's what Madrid need behind their defence.
There aren't any worries on Real Madrid's part about not having enough Spanish representatives in the squad over the coming years; Dani Ceballos, Isco, Marco Asensio and Vallejo are all added to the likes of Carvajal and Ramos, but the possibility of having a future Spain No. 1, as Iker Casillas was for so many years, will appeal to both fans and board alike.
Max Meyer, Schalke 04
The previous three names would all be certainties to feature for Madrid in 2018/19, playing a key role and showcasing their abilities in the first team, but it's not just immediate starters who should be considered.
Schalke 04's Max Meyer is just 22 and has already had ups and downs in his career, but this term is showing a different side to his game—control, impressive tactical nous and an ability to dictate games from deep.
Having been an attacking-midfield option for much of his breakthrough seasons at the Bundesliga club, he's now playing as a No. 6, where he is offering a lot more consistency on and off the ball in his more withdrawn role.
The German is already a senior international with four caps, but he also has almost 150 top-flight matches to his name—an impressive haul for such a young player.
Let's be clear, though: He's not ready to step in and replace Kroos. But as an alternative option in the squad, he could be interesting for Madrid's mid-term project, a potential partner for Ceballos and a player who clearly has a lot of development left in him considering he has only just begun in his new role.
Even if Meyer joined Madrid and went out on loan, he could be back around the first team before turning 24 with a year of regular Champions League or top-flight Spanish action under his belt.
He's a complete player—technically good and improving defensively—and if he leaves Schalke in the summer, then someone is going to land themselves what will turn out to be a bargain over the next few years.
With a little patience and long-term thinking, Madrid could benefit enormously.
Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal
Finally, a real speculative shot stemming mostly from a tactical perspective.
Zidane has favoured a 4-4-2 formation at Real Madrid for almost a full calendar year now, utilising both a flat middle quartet and a diamond depending on the players available and in form.
Either way, it has been two up front—Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema—while Gareth Bale has spent almost the same period sidelined with various injuries.
When the Welshman returns, it's hard to envisage Zidane will return to a 4-3-3 just to accommodate him without proving his longer-term fitness, but it's possible.
And in any case, Madrid have lacked alternative attacking options through the middle after selling Alvaro Morata and Mariano.
Of all the players Real could sign a pre-contract with, Alexis Sanchez might be the one who is most open and available to a cut-price winter transfer.
He would be perfect for Madrid's needs as Arsenal are in the Europa League this season, meaning the 28-year-old is eligible for the Champions League knockout stages, and he can play as a centre-forward and a wider option in a 4-3-3.
He's aggressive, individualistic and capable of carrying a goal threat when in form, and his past as a Barcelona player shouldn't prohibit him joining.
If the Gunners want a big fee for a January move, Sanchez would still be a worthwhile summer addition for Los Blancos on a free; even on big wages, they'd be able to move him on a year later if the signing doesn't work out and likely get a massive price for him in the process.
Alexis to Real Madrid doesn't feel particularly probable, but as an instant impact, shot-in-the-arm addition to Zidane's side, he'd be a quick fix for a number of problems and could feasibly give them a couple of years of irresistible service.
And if his arrival sparked Benzema enough to return to his best form, so much the better.