‘Calm’ Real Madrid suffer squad headaches

'Calm' Real Madrid suffer squad headaches
Real Madrid's new Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti (L) and his French assistant, club legend French Zinedine Zidane. Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP
After three years of Jose Mourinho provoking a reaction from anyone he could during his time at Real Madrid, a relative calm has descended over the club in recent months since Carlo Ancelotti took charge.

The easy-going Italian's approach has so far been happily received by both the local press pack and the club's star-studded squad.

While off the field the presence of Gareth Bale and the possibility of club president Florentino Perez paying another world record transfer fee looms, on the field Madrid have been going about their business in the best way possible.

Seven pre-season friendlies have brought six wins and one draw, with the defeats of Mourinho's new side Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan particularly impressive.

However, the scorched earth policy adopted by Mourinho in his final days at the club and Perez's dealings in the transfer market still leave Ancelotti with a number of difficult decisions as Real's season gets up and running over the next few weeks.

Although Perez's forward thinking strategy in tying up two of the pearls from Spain's victory in the U-21 European Championships in Isco and Asier Illarramendi has been widely approved, it is questionable whether either player will be a regular starter.

Real splashed out €69 million euros ($92 million, £59.3 million) on the pair but they face stiff competition from the likes of Mesut Ozil and Xabi Alonso for a place in their respective prefered positions.

Moreover, whilst Perez seems intent on landing Bale, the sale of Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli has left the nine-time European champions uncharacteristically undermanned when it comes to strikers with only Karim Benzema and 20-year-old Alvaro Morata left to lead the line.

With that relative shortage in mind and the possible arrival of Bale who has predominantly excelled for Tottenham Hotspur in the same position that Cristiano Ronaldo has played over the past four seasons, Ancelotti has toyed with the Portuguese as a central striker in pre-season.

Ronaldo has though in the past stated his displeasure at being used in that role, particularly with his national side, and at a critical stage in Real's attempts to get the 28-year-old to sign a new contract, it is highly unlikely any pressure will be put on the former world player of the year to play in a position he appears to dislike.

Ancelotti also has big calls to make at the back. Mourinho's most public spat in his last six months at the club was with captain and Spain 'keeper Iker Casillas, whom he dropped after signing Diego Lopez in January.

Despite the public outcry at the treatment handed out to Casillas, it was hard to argue that Lopez didn't deserve his place in the side after a string of stunning performances towards the end of the season.

Ancelotti now has to decide whether to reinstate Casillas as the number one and could be left in the unenviable position of dropping a club legend should he fail to recover his form of old.

In defence, Pepe's public outburst at Mourinho for having a lack of respect for Casillas swiftly saw the Portuguese expelled from the squad towards the end of the season with Mourinho claiming Pepe's real problem was having been dropped in favour of 20-year-old Raphael Varane.

The Portuguese looks set to start in the first few weeks of the season as Varane continues to recover from a knee injury, but the 30-year-old's patience may be tried once more if he again drops behind the Frenchman and Sergio Ramos in the pecking order.

And there is even a difficult decision for Ancelotti at right-back as Alvaro Arbeloa, one of the few players to publicly defend Mourinho, is likely to see his place in the side come under threat from Dani Carvajal, who has returned to Madrid after the club took up their option to buy-back the 21-year-old from Bayer Leverkusen.

Until now Ancelotti's charm has ensured a gentle ride, but the hard work and pressure for Madrid to make amends for a trophyless campaign last season begins in earnest when they host Real Betis on Sunday..

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