Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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Real Madrid set to begin Spanish league without a world-class scorer

MADRID (AP) – From Alfredo Di Stéfano to Hugo Sánchez to Raúl González. From Ronaldo to Cristiano Ronaldo to Karim Benzema.

It seems there has always been a world-class scorer associated with Real Madrid throughout the club’s storied football history.

It may not be the case this season, though, as Madrid is about to begin the campaign without a high-profile striker in its squad.

Benzema, the team’s best player the last few seasons and last year’s Ballon d’Or winner, made the lucrative move to Saudi Arabian football and the Spanish powerhouse has yet to replace him with someone of the same prominence.

With less than a week before the season kicks off, Madrid’s squad included only four forwards, with only one true striker among them.

Madrid has tried to sign Kylian Mbappé but has been unable to reach a deal for the France star. It may have to wait until his contract with Paris Saint-Germain ends at the end of the season to be able to finally bring him to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Vinícius Júnior. PHOTO: AP
Karim Benzema holds the Ballon d’Or 2022 trophy. PHOTO: AP

For now, Madrid has only signed Joselu on a loan from Espanyol. The 33-year-old striker blossomed late in his career but has been a regular with Spain’s national team. The hope is that he can team up well with Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo, the young Brazilian duo that last season showed signs they can take on a greater role in attack.

Vinícius’ season was marked by a series of racist insults against him by fans, which ultimately prompted an outpouring of support for the Brazilian from sports figures around the world.

The insults against Vinícius spurred government officials into action to boost the fight against racism.

The only other attacking-minded player currently available for Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti is 24-year-old Brahim Díaz, who returned to the squad after a three-year loan with AC Milan.

He is listed by Madrid as one of the squad’s forwards but has often played as an attacking
midfielder.

In addition to Benzema, Madrid has also lost forwards Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio and Mariano Díaz. Neither of them played much last season but were options off the bench for Ancelotti.

The coach said a few months back that Madrid would look for “a striker who can score goals and link up well with the others”.

Harry Kane was among the strikers reportedly on the list of candidates to replace Benzema, but the Tottenham striker has been more widely linked with Bayern Munich.

Madrid’s defence will remain mostly unchanged, anchored by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, but the midfield will be boosted by the addition of young England midfielder Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund. He will mix up with veterans Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who had their contracts renewed for what should be their final seasons with the Spanish club.

It starts with a game at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

Madrid finished last season with three titles – the UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and Copa del Rey. But it finished second in the Spanish league, 10 points behind champion Barcelona, and was eliminated by Manchester City in the semifinals of the Champions League.

More success this season could depend on whether the club can find a way to keep succeeding in attack without a true scorer. Or on whether it can finally succeed with signing Mbappé.

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