It’s that time of year — the annual Managing Madrid roundtable season preview has returned! Most of our writers have come together to share their thoughts and predictions on the upcoming 2021/2022 season:
Real Madrid have made two signings this summer – Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni – how big will their impact be?
Kiyan Sobhani: I think they’ll both be massive. They fit, like a glove, Carlo Ancelotti’s philosophy of having high character guys who can band together a united brotherhood. On top of that, they’re just flat out solid, solid players. Rudiger was one of the best center-backs in the world last season, and immediately upgrades the ceiling of the backline, and gives insurance, leadership, and experience to the team. I think he should start over Militao, or at least be able to keep him in check throughout the season both on and off the field. He also has terrific 1v1 lockdown ability on superstar attackers as well as elite ball progression and much-needed aerial presence.
And here’s a shameless plug of our School of Real Madrid video about Rudiger:
Tchouameni, on the other hand, might be more of a future bet, but will probably work himself into a starting role by the springtime (book it). I’ve been really impressed with his defensive positioning in pre-season. His solidity on the ball from the anchor role gives the team something they haven’t had at the DM position for several years in big Champions League games.
Lucas Navarrete: I‘d like to see Rudiger becoming an undisputed starter very soon and I honestly expected him to have said role from the get go. As I’ve said many times, I think last season’s defensive line wasn’t as reliable as the trophies won would suggest and Rudiger is right now the best CB on the roster, so starting the season with him sitting on the bench makes no sense to me. However, I’m confident about him earning that spot sooner rather than later, so he will be a very important player. As high as Tchouameni’s ceiling and potential is, his chances of being a relevant starter this season aren’t very high unless Casemiro suffers some kind of injury or a very significant loss of form. Will he play quality minutes? Sure, especially with Modric and Casemiro needing to take care of their bodies with the World Cup looming, but fans should not expect to see him in the starting XI in a crucial Champions League game or in El Clasico.
Euan McTear: Real Madrid needed exactly these two players this summer and, honestly, not much more. Rüdiger is already acting like a captain and is ready to go, with the combined positional flexibility of the German and of David Alaba giving Ancelotti a lot of options in terms of how he sets up his back four. I expect Rüdiger to mostly start at centre-back, but also to rack up significant minutes at left-back if – or, let’s face it, when – Ferland Mendy is out injured. As for Tchouaméni, I think he’ll start a lot more often than Camavinga did last year. Comparisons have been made between the two, but keep in mind that Tchouaméni arrives already 22 years of age, whereas Camavinga was only 18 when he touched down at the Bernabéu.
Matt Wiltse: Both these players have the ultimate challenge: to prove to Carlo Ancelotti that his double-winning “once de gala” can be changed. For me, Antonio Rudiger is a better player than Eder Militao. I think the German may ultimately oust the Brazilian from the line-up for big games. He can match Eder’s aggressive nature, recovery speed, and 1 v 1 defending, but can better the Brazilian on both his distribution and ball carrying ability out of the back. With both Alaba and Rudiger in the middle of the defense, Real Madrid’s ability to play through a press goes up another notch.
Tchouameni has a more difficult task with Casmeiro, Kroos, and Modric nearly untouchable when the big games roll around. I think the Frenchman will get over 2,000 minutes this season but will have to wait at least another season before he becomes a week-in and week-out starter. He may not be as elite as Casemiro with his defensive positioning as the single pivot, but if he can continue to hone his skills while in possession, he can bring a new dynamic to that spot.
Mehedi Hassan: Although both are world-class signings to me, I do not expect either of them to rack up significant game time at the beginning of the season. That’s just based on watching Carlo Ancelotti’s sides over the years. However, with Rudiger and Tchouameni’s quality, they most definitely have an edge over other players on the bench. I expect them to be rotational players at the start of the season which should inevitably change as the season progresses. Rudiger especially could be huge on European nights. Tchouameni on the other hand could be our trump card in LaLiga. His on-ball features as a single pivot would allow the other two central midfielders (whoever that might be) to play much higher. If they play together, Tchouameni can relieve Modric and Kroos from having to drop deep which they have to do every game to keep Casemiro away from the ball in the first phase of build-up. Having Tchouameni as the lone pivot will help significantly to unlock stubborn LaLiga low blocks in the latter phases.
Kristofer McCormack: I think Rudiger is a massive addition provided Ancelotti plays him in his best position. Having Militao, Rudiger and the ever dependable Nacho as centre back rotation is a very strong and quick bounce back to losing Ramos and Varane last summer. Ancelotti has discussed keeping Alaba centrally and I hope he comes to his senses quickly on that experiment.
Tchouameni is still very young, but he looked strong in pre-season and given our first midfield is another year older, I’m pleased to have some more quality depth in that position.
Jose Perez: Setting high expectations is a recipe for failure, but the reality is I expect great things from Rüdiger. I’m as bullish on his signing as I was about Alaba last year, and I expect him to have a similar impact to Alaba’s. In other words, I expect him to become a leader of this defense, both on and off the pitch, and I expect him to significantly improve the quality of Real Madrid’s defending inside the box.
Tchouaméni is a longer-term investment, and I’m not really expecting much in terms of immediate impact. Ideally, I would love him to have a season like Camavinga’s last: starting out with smaller roles, maybe not enough minutes, but as the season goes on he starts getting a bigger role and more trust from Ancelotti. That would already be quite good for his first season.
Six competitions + a mid-season World Cup — what does Carlo Ancelotti need to do differently vs the previous season ?
Lucas Navarrete: Trust his bench and rotate more often. It all worked just fine last season, but players like Kroos, Modric and Benzema can’t be on the field on the 85th minute of a 0-3 win against Sheriff. Camavinga, Valverde, Tchouameni and Rodrygo can be trusted. With those four players, you can manage the legs of Modric, Kroos, Casemiro, Vinicius and even Benzema throughout the season. Do it.
Matt Wiltse: Carlo did not begin to rotate (or trust his bench) until late March last season. In his previous reign as Real Madrid coach, he rarely ever rotated. I do not think he can get away with that type of mentality this season – even if he starts to feel the pressure after a bad run of matches. Rotating and integrating these young talents must be a priority. Not every player that goes to the World Cup will log heavy minutes, either due to early elimination, injury, or by being on the bench (Militao, Asensio, Rodrygo, Camavinga – all expected to be substitutes or not called up) and thus minute distribution for those players should be different vs a Modric or a Benzema.
Kristofer McCormack: I think a lot of people will want Carlo to rotate more than last season. I think, on reflection, he did rotate smartly last year and continuing that trend while also recognizing that no one really cares if we don’t win the Club World Cup as long as the club is in a strong position for big two titles.
Mehedi Hassan: Again, I have found Carlo to be a strict believer in the phrase Don’t tweak/fix something if it’s not broken. He wouldn’t be heavily inclined to do something drastically different at least to start the season. If anything, I expect a gradual shift in trust among certain players as the season rolls through. The only caveat to this would be how Pintus is monitoring the physical condition of the team which seems pretty fine now but would not be this pristine during this brutal season. The dire need of changing things around to preserve health could and should play a role in Carlo’s selection choices.
Euan McTear: I don’t necessarily think Ancelotti needs to rotate much more than last season. It was his lack of rotation at the very start of last season that allowed Real Madrid to build up such a significant double-digit lead in the LaLiga table, a lead so large that both Barcelona and Atlético threw in the towel by New Year’s Eve, making rotation in the league possible in the second half of last season. What the hectic schedule and World Cup does mean is that Karim Benzema surely won’t be able to play as much as he did last year – and, even in 2021/22, he did miss 10 full games. So, Ancelotti needs to find a better solution for when Benzema isn’t available.
Jose Perez: The question already implies the answer: rotation, rotation, rotation. Carlo is not a fan of it, but the madness of this season’s calendar will require it, and aside from the center forward position, Carlo has the squad to do these rotations.
It would be nice to see a more development on the team’s pressing and possession phases, but I’m not expecting much improvement here compared to last season.
Kiyan Sobhani: I worry less about what happens before the World Cup, and more-so what happens after it. To elaborate further, I’m specifically worried about Karim Benzema and Dani Carvajal. If God forbid there is an injury or drop in form to Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Eder Militao, Casemiro (Etc), there is at least proper depth in those positions where you wouldn’t need to fret much. But with the former two? That’s trouble.
I’d like to see Benzema getting rest as much as possible, particularly in those games where Real Madrid have sealed the three points early. Of course, easier said than done. The easy answer to this is “Ancelotti needs to rotate more”, but that’s a bit too basic. I trust the depth chart in certain areas in the squad, not in others. We just have to ensure we don’t run Benzema and Carvajal into the ground.
What is your “hot take” for the season?
Euan McTear: Having hit with my hot takes for the past two years – Lucas Vázquez to have better stats than Hazard in 2020/21 and Real Madrid to win LaLiga before the final matchday in 2021/22 – I’m puffing my chest out and going for three in a row, relying on Rodrygo for it. My bold prediction this year is that Rodrygo will score more goals than Vinícius. He had nine last year, while Vinícius had 22, but it was 0.34 vs 0.47 per 90 minutes, so a lot closer when you factor in playing time, which is going to be a lot more for Rodrygo in 2022/23.
Kristofer McCormack: I think Barcelona will win the league. We were deserved winners last year but, at the time of writing, I think too much has to go our way again for us to retain the title. We would need another monstrous season out of Benzema and a commitment to chasing the league title that we’ve often seen Real Madrid struggle with.
Barca, meanwhile, are in a place where they can probably compete properly this season and will be motivated to avenge what happened last year. That’s enough to make them favorites sadly.
Kiyan Sobhani: Real Madrid will be better than last season. That means they’ll be better defensively, offensively and overall. While La Liga will improve, Real Madrid will improve even more. Whether that leads to more trophies or not is out of my control, but the process will be better than last season.
Jose Perez: I have a feeling this year Real Madrid will play better and “more dominant” than last year, but will not win as many titles. Football is a tricky sport like that.
Mehedi Hassan: No Real Madrid player gets selected for the Spanish World Cup squad.
Matt Wiltse: Both Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos end up playing important roles this season and renew their contracts with Real Madrid.
Lucas Navarrete: I’m always skeptical about Real Madrid right after such a successful season like the one we witnessed last year, so Ancelotti being sacked during the winter wouldn’t be shocking. However, I don’t want to be so pessimistic, so I will say that Ceballos will once again be an important player off the bench even after the signing of Tchouameni and when almost everyone expected him to leave this summer.
Give us your predictions for:
A. Unsung hero of the season: Dani Ceballos
B. MIP – most improved player: Eduardo Camavinga
C. MVP: Karim Benzema (please, let no one on staff choose otherwise. There are no hipster choices here. The team with and without him is night and day.)
A. Unsung hero of the season: David Alaba – with the dwindling between Militao and Rudiger, Alaba will remain the constant presence at the back, bailing us many times.
B. MIP: Eduardo Camavinga – if he can get the minutes, have a strong feeling that this could be his leap year. He is too got not to make it happen if he is allowed to play more frequently.
C. MVP: Karim Benzema – self-explanatory.
A. Unsung hero of the season – Carvajal
B. MIP – most improved player – Rodrygo
C. MVP – Courtois
A. Unsung hero of the season – Ferland Mendy
B. MIP – most improved player – Eduardo Camavinga
C. MVP – Karim Benzema
A. Unsung hero of the season – Dani Ceballos
B. MIP – most improved player – Eden Hazard
C. MVP – Thibaut Courtois
A. Unsung hero of the season: Kroos. There will be demands for Carlo to bench him for the younger players, but he will quietly go back to his better version.
B. MIP: most improved player: Rodrygo. We already saw a great end to last season, and it’s time for our boy to fully make the leap as an attacking superstar.
C. MVP: Vinicius. It’s time for Benzema to get some rest and stop having to be the MVP week after week. Vinicius can take more of his responsibilities now.
A. Unsung hero of the season – Militao
B. MIP – most improved player – Rodrygo
C. MVP – Vinicius
Give us your final season predictions: Standings in La Liga, Copa, and UCL.
La Liga: Champions
Champions League: Quarterfinals
La Liga: Champions
Champions League: Quarterfinals
La Liga: 2nd
Champions League: Semi-finals
LaLiga – 2nd
UCL – Winners
Copa del Rey – quarter finals at best
La Liga: Champions
Copa del Rey: Round-of-16
Champions League: Champions
La Liga: 1st. Barca may have had a great summer, but this team is more mature. No excuse for not winning the league.
Copa: Final. I think this is a good year to give some priority to the Copa, Real haven’t won it in a while.
UCL: Quarterfinals. This might be Real Madrid’s tournament, but I’m not expecting two wins in a row again, sorry.