By Karl Matchett.
Real Madrid are still challenging in La Liga and the Champions League this season, but know they are facing a transfer ban for up to two windows, currently due to start in summer but which may be appealed and deferred until next January.
Zinedine Zidane is newly installed as manager and has taken over a side built with players signed for the likes of Rafa Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti, and has immediately shown a preference to go with a 4-3-3 formation to make use of his famed "BBC" attack, placing Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo either side of Karim Benzema. It's certainly a talented front line, but Real have frequently found themselves without at least one due to injury this season and at times the depth isn't quite there in Real's squad to not suffer a drop-off in quality when first XI stars are missing.
With that in mind, here are the three biggest areas of concern that the club needs to address and strengthen in before the transfer ban kicks in.Â
Goalscoring, versatile forward
While Isco and James Rodriguez typically battle it out for a starting spot between them as an attacking midfielder, both have also started from the flank in the three-man attack. Both are, of course, perfectly capable of playing from there-but it's neither their preferred role nor where they are most effective from, and Real could certainly do with adding another such player to their squad list.Â
Denis Cheryshev doesn't get a look-in, Lucas Vazquez is hard-working but lacking in genuine top-end talent and Jese, despite seeing more game time now, has never really gotten back to his exciting best level since his ACL injury.
Real would be well-served by bringing in a forward who can play centrally to cover for Benzema, but also has the ability to provide goals from one side or the other. Of course, such recruits are expensive and sought-after, but they have plenty of pull simply because of the club's reputation and splashing out on big names has never been a problem under Florentino Perez.
Riyad Mahrez, Lorenzo Insigne, Anwar El Ghazi or Lucas Perez might all fill the void in different ways for typical second-tier talents, but if Real want to make a big statement and add huge competition for places, either of Dortmund pair Marco Reus or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be ideal.Â
Real's starting back four is set: Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane and Marcelo. It's extremely difficult to break into that line-up, as Danilo is finding out, but the centre and left could certainly do with an able body to boost the squad.
Pepe is still competent, but nowhere near a top-level defender in consistency or reliability, and fast approaching 33 years of age that's not a surprise. Nacho has filled in as the fourth centre-back and a back-up left-back this season, but isn't a first pick and now looks on his way out to Napoli regardless. Real Madrid must bring in another left-back option to fill in for Marcelo, and if that player can also provide cover centrally then all the better.
Valencia's Jose Gaya is the obvious option but with Marcelo in his way, it wouldn't be the best move for Los Che's teenage talent. Celta Vigo's Jonny, Jaume Costa of Villarreal or a more experienced options such as Aleksandar Kolarov of Manchester City might be better-suited as targets.
Talents on loan
Just like Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid have players out on loan which-judging by the precedent set with Barcelona-they would not be able to recall and register back with their own team once the ban is initiated.
Real don't have as many out as Atletico did, but they have two seniors who either need to be reintegrated or sold and two youngsters who could certainly fit the bill and play a part in next season's squad.
Fabio Coentrao is at Monaco in Ligue 1, while Lucas Silva is with Marseille in the same league. Unfortunately for the latter he doesn't appear to be wanted by either parent club or the side who have loaned him-he needs a fresh start in the summer.
Marco Asensio and Alvaro Medran, however, will have cause to hope they can contribute to Real Madrid going forward. Alvaro is at Getafe and sidelined with a broken leg until February or March, but has impressed at times, while 20-year-old Asensio has starred with Espanyol. There's no doubting he has the technical ability to battle with the likes of Isco for a role in Real Madrid's midfield-Zidane needs to decide if he's a better bet than Martin Odegaard, for example, or whether to give either of them a further year of loan time before reincorporating them after the ban ends.