European champions Chelsea have been in the market for a new striker this off-season.

The Blues chased Erling Haaland without success and have now set their sights on Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku was on Chelsea's books from 2011 and 2014 but has since become one of the world's best forwards.

 

TOP STORY - CHELSEA TO TABLE NEW BUMPER LUKAKU BID

Chelsea  are preparing to table a new bid of between £100million and £110m (€120-130m) bid for Inter forward  Lukaku  claims Fabrizio Romano.

The Blues had an initial £85m (€100m) offer, including Marcos Alonso, for the Belgian striker rejected by Inter.

The Sun claim Lukaku is keen on a return to Chelsea, citing "unfinished business" from his previous stint in London.

 

ROUND-UP

- Paris Saint-Germain are not guaranteed to retain Real Madrid target  Kylian Mbappe , reports AS. The France superstar has already informed PSG that he will not extend his current contract, due to expire in 2022, and president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is set to take over talks.

- Aymeric Laporte has told Manchester City he wants to leave to return to Spain this off-season, reports 90min. Barcelona and Real Madrid are both interested in the Spain international, who is not first choice at City.

- Arsenal have proposed a player-plus-cash deal, believed to be worth £60m, for Leicester City's James Maddison according to Football.London, but negotiations are "very slow". 

- Tottenham will complete a £47m (€55m) deal for Atalanta defender  Cristian Romero imminently according to Romano. Atalanta will fill the void by signing Merih Demiral from Juventus.

Chelsea are in the market for a striker and are seemingly keen on one of their former players.

Romelu Lukaku helped Inter to the Serie A title last term and is seemingly in Chelsea's sights.

The Belgium international scored four goals at Euro 2020 after netting 24 times in Serie A.

TOP STORY - CHELSEA REBUFFED IN LUKAKU BID

Chelsea have had their initial bid worth approximately £86 million (€100m) for Lukaku rejected by Inter, reports The Sun.

The Blues made their transfer offer with defender Marcos Alonso also involved, but the Italian champions are demanding a £100m (€117m) fee.

Lukaku is said to be Chelsea's number one target after failing in their bid to lure Erling Haaland away from Borussia Dortmund.

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid are still expecting Kylian Mbappe to let his Paris Saint-Germain contract expire at the end of the 2021-22 season and join Los Blancos for free, according to AS.

- The Daily Star reports Manchester City and Tottenham are still unable to reach agreement in negotiations over Harry Kanewith £40m separating them currently.

- AS claims Barcelona remain in the box seat to sign highly sought-after Atletico Madrid star Saul Niguez despite their financial challenges. Saul has been chased by Premier League trio LiverpoolManchester United and Chelsea.

Atalanta are set to win the race to sign Juventus defender Merih Demiral, claims Sky Deutschland, with Cristian Romero looking likely to join Tottenham. Bundesliga pair Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen were also interested in the Turkey international.

Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has switched his attention from Arsenal's Granit Xhaka to Dortmund's Thomas Delaney, according to Bild.

Barcelona remain confident of a resolution as they wait to announce a new contract for legendary forward Lionel Messi.

The long-time Barca captain has been a free agent since his previous deal expired on July 1.

A fresh agreement on more reasonable financial terms for the cash-strapped Catalan club has been anticipated for some time, but barriers remain.

So scant are Barca's resources amid the coronavirus pandemic that LaLiga will not allow new players to be registered until space has been cleared for their wages.

That has meant delays for the club's 2021 signings, including Messi, due to his free agency.

The coming week has been mooted as potentially pivotal as the new season nears, with a breakthrough hoped for ahead of Sunday's friendly against Juventus.

Barca president Joan Laporta spoke on Monday as Emerson Royal was presented at Camp Nou, saying: "Regarding Leo, things are going well.

"We're trying to resolve the issues that need to be resolved. They're important, of course, but we're on it."

 

Despite the arrivals of Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero, Messi is set to remain Barca's main man in attack.

He has been involved in 937 goals in 778 games for the Blaugrana, scoring at least 30 times in 13 consecutive seasons.

Messi has netted 10 or more LaLiga goals in a record 15 straight campaigns, making him the top scorer in the competition's history (474 goals).

Only rival Cristiano Ronaldo (476) has more goals in Europe's top five leagues.

Atletico Madrid defender Mario Hermoso has been released from a German hospital following an episode of intestinal obstruction.

The centre-back has successfully recovered and able to return to Spain on Monday.

Hermoso was admitted to hospital on Saturday after complaining of acute abdominal pain leading up to Atletico's friendly against Wolfsburg.

But after undergoing medical tests, the Spain international was discharged  and will hope to be involved for Diego Simeone's side against Cadiz on Wednesday.

Hermoso, who arrived from Espanyol in July 2019, has made 48 league appearances for Atleti.

The 26-year-old played 31 times in LaLiga last season as the club were crowned champions, their first top-flight title since 2014.

Atletico will launch their defence away at Celta Vigo on August 15.

Jack Grealish has been holidaying following Euro 2020, but it is now decision time on his club future.

Speculation has mounted over the past few days about a potential move to Manchester City.

City manager Pep Guardiola is a long-term admirer of Grealish, and a big-money bid has apparently been sanctioned by chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak.

TOP STORY - GREALISH SET FOR MONDAY TALKS WITH VILLA

Grealish has returned from his off-season holiday and will hold showdown talks with Aston Villa on Monday as a move to City looms, reports The Mirror.

Grealish has been linked with a £100million move to the English champions and is expected to inform Villa of his intention to leave.

Villa have reportedly offered Grealish a bumper new deal worth £200,000-a-week.

 

ROUND-UP

Tottenham have turned their attention to Wolves winger Adama Traore, according to the Daily Mail. Wolves reportedly want £45m for the Spain international, who would be re-acquainted with manager Nuno Espirito Santo. Goal claims Leeds United are also interested in Traore.

Atletico Madrid are preparing for Kieran Trippier to exit the club as links with Manchester United intensify, with the Spanish champions lining up a move for Roma's Alessandro Florenzi, claims AS.

Atletico are also pursuing Inter's Lautaro Martinez and have moved ahead of Arsenal in the race to sign the Argentina international, according to Tuttosport.

- Borussia Dortmund's Denmark international Thomas Delaney is being pursued SouthamptonNorwich City and Crystal Palace, reports Ruhr Nachrichten.

- ABC claims Real Madrid will offer forward Karim Benzema a new one-year contract extension.

Rafa Mir believes he would fit in well at Atletico Madrid but will wait until after the Tokyo Olympics to discuss his future with Wolves.

The 24-year-old has failed to settle since moving to Molineux from Valencia in 2018 and has spent the last three seasons on loan with Las Palmas, Nottingham Forest and Huesca.

Mir has less than a year to run on his contract and has been touted as a target for LaLiga champions Atletico, who are seeking further back-up for first-choice striker Luis Suarez.

Reports in Spain on Sunday, meanwhile, suggest the former Barcelona youth product has been offered to the Catalan giants by agent Jorge Mendes.

And with his stock high after scoring a hat-trick for Spain in their Olympic quarter-final win against the Ivory Coast on Saturday, Mir is not ruling out a transfer before the window closes.

"Things are happening. I have not asked to know much until the Games are over," he told AS.

"We will see how things progress. I still have one more year at Wolverhampton and calmly we will decide what is best for me.

"I want to be at a place I'm happy, as I was at Huesca. I want to feel loved by the people and the club. With those ingredients I can play at my best.

"I arrived in England during a difficult situation and then I was injured for a couple of months. My level of English also isn't good, but it's been improving.

"English football is a style I like and that's why I chose to go there after Valencia. Things have not gone as I wanted but I think I can do well there. 

"I'm still young and have many more years of my career to go, so we'll see what happens."

Asked about the links with Atletico in particular, Mir added: "They are a great club. I think the way they play suits me very well because of my characteristics. We'll have to see.

"Right now I'm focused on the Games. When they come to an end then we will see."

 

Mir was brought on as a substitute against the Ivory Coast and forced extra time just 58 seconds after being introduced from the bench, netting from his first touch of the ball.

He added two more goals in the additional period to earn Spain a 5-2 win and set up a semi-final with competition hosts Japan in Saitama on Tuesday.

That made the Murcia-born forward the first player to score a hat-trick in a knockout-round game in the tournament since Beijing 2008.

"I'm very happy with those goals and to help the team progress," Mir said. "You wake up with the same desire and enthusiasm which we cam with, which is to get a medal. 

"I've had the matchball signed by all my colleagues. I have a space at home for all my football possessions, such as shirts and balls from other hat-tricks I've scored."

Mir scored 13 goals in 38 LaLiga appearances last season – only seven players netted more – but he could not prevent Huesca from suffering relegation to the second tier.

Those 13 goals came from 120 shots, including blocks, which was the third highest tally in the Spanish top flight last season after Karim Benzema (123) and Lionel Messi (196).

Massimiliano Allegri shrugged off talk of a possible Juventus return for Miralem Pjanic, saying Aaron Ramsey could instead be used in a deeper role this season.

Pjanic left for Barcelona last year in a swap deal with Arthur, but his time in Spain has been unhappy, the midfielder starting just six LaLiga games under Ronald Koeman in 2020-21.

There is speculation the 31-year-old wants to move back to Turin, where he could reunite with Allegri, the coach under whom he won six trophies in Italy.

Allegri, though, appears more interested in transforming Ramsey into a defensive midfielder ahead of the start of 2021-22.

The Wales international started at the base of a midfield three in Saturday's 2-1 friendly win over Monza, regaining possession four times and completing 100 per cent of his passes in his 45-minute outing.

Ramsey has been linked with a possible return to the Premier League but it appears Allegri has important plans for the 30-year-old if he is prepared to embrace the change in position.

"The club handles the transfer market. We speak every day," Allegri said to Mediaset when asked about the Pjanic rumours.

"The squad... it's a good squad. Ramsey played very well in front of the defence today and I think Aaron, in front of the defence, can become a really important player.

"[Pjanic] gave me some great victories. He's a Barcelona player, though.

"We have talented players and I think, if Ramsey is convinced to play in front of the defence, he can become important. He runs less there and can rest more on the ball."

Juve play Barca in the pre-season Joan Gamper Trophy match on August 8.

Manchester City still hope to sign Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane in the coming days.

The Premier League champions appear likely to add his international team-mate first, with Jack Grealish reportedly close to a move to the Etihad Stadium.

Aston Villa have tabled a contract to keep their star man, but City are prepared to spend big to win his signature.

 

TOP STORY - CITY CLOSE ON GREALISH DEAL

Manchester City are set to complete a £100million move for Jack Grealish in the next few days, according to multiple reports

The Mail says the 25-year-old England international will earn more than £200,000 a week upon joining Pep Guardiola's side. 

Though City are expected to cut ties with some veteran players, adding Grealish will have no impact on their longstanding pursuit of Harry Kane, the Sun reports.

 

ROUND-UP

- Saul Niguez is weighing up a move to the Premier League, with the Mirror reporting Manchester United and Liverpool are possibilities for the Atletico Madrid midfielder in a £35-£40m deal. 

- Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are possibilities for Bernardo Silva if he leaves City in the coming weeks, reports the Mail. 

- Atalanta centre-back Cristian Romero wants to join Tottenham but the clubs are having difficulty reaching an agreement, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

- Brazilian striker Kaio Jorge is set for a €3m (£2.5m) permanent move to Juventus from Santos and is expected to sign through to 2026, reports Romano. 

- Arsenal and Everton have shown interest in Schalke's Matthew Hoppe after the USA international's strong Gold Cup performance, reports US journalist Grant Wahl.

- Talks between Wolves and Adama Traore have broken down and Leeds could swoop for the winger, reports Goal. 

- Brighton are interested in Benfica striker and Urugay international Darwin Nunez, reports the Mail. 

Ronald Koeman was delighted with the connection between Memphis Depay and Antoine Griezmann during Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Stuttgart on Saturday.

Barca maintained their perfect pre-season record, making it three wins from three at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.

Depay, who joined the La Liga giants on a free transfer in June after his departure from Lyon, opened the scoring against the Bundesliga outfit in emphatic fashion after 21 minutes.

The Dutchman controlled Frenkie de Jong’s diagonal ball into the box, before flicking it over the head of defender Pascal Stenzel and firing past Fabian Bredlow in the Stuttgart goal.

Following his second goal in as many games, Depay then played a key role as Barca doubled the lead 15 minutes later - a clever backheel releasing Griezmann to cross for youngster Yusuf Demir to tap home.

Koeman praised the impact of his compatriot and was particularly impressed by his link-up with the France star.

"Surely people know what Memphis is about," he said.

"He has been at [Manchester] United, the last few years at Lyon and above all, he has shown himself to be a goalscorer. 

"He showed [that quality] with his goal, strength and speed he brings to the team.

"His connection with Antoine is very good and that gives us a lot.

"They are two players who can play in different positions in the attack. We're going to have competition."

Alvaro Odriozola has become the latest Real Madrid player to test positive for coronavirus.

The 25-year-old is the third member of the Madrid squad to contract the illness in the past eight days after Karim Benzema and new signing David Alaba also returned positive tests.

Odriozola played the full 90 minutes of Los Blancos' 2-1 friendly defeat to Rangers in Glasgow last week but will now self-isolate.

Madrid confirmed the news in a short statement on their official website on Saturday, though they did not clarify whether the four-cap Spain international was asymptomatic. 

Real Sociedad academy product Odriozola featured 16 times for Madrid in all competitions season, including nine starts in LaLiga.

With Dani Carvajal still on the comeback trail from a hamstring injury, Odriozola was in contention to start the season at right-back for Madrid.

Carlo Ancelotti's side have one more pre-season friendly to play – against Milan in Austria on August 8 – before beginning their LaLiga campaign against Alaves the following week.

Manuel Locatelli won plenty of admirers for his displays at Euro 2020.

Locatelli played a key role in Italy's tournament triumph, including two goals against Switzerland.

The former Milan midfielder has established himself with Sassuolo over the past two seasons in Serie A and is now on the radar of several leading European clubs.

 

TOP STORY - LIVERPOOL HIJACK LOCATELLI PURSUIT

Liverpool have joined Juventus and Arsenal in the race to sign Italy international Manuel Locatelli , reports 90min.

The Reds are close to making their opening bid for the Sassuolo midfielder who helped Italy win Euro 2020.

Liverpool are looking to replace Georginio Wijnaldum who has left for Paris Saint-Germain.

 

ROUND-UP

- Aston Villa have countered Manchester City's £100million bid on Friday for midfielder Jack Grealish with a club-record contact offer, reports The Daily Star. The deal is believed to be worth £200,000 per week.

- Real Madrid are set to act fast on replacing Manchester United-bound Raphael Varane, with a €60m move for Villarreal defender Pau Torres, according to El Gol Digital.

- Granit Xhaka may stay at Arsenal despite strong links with a transfer to Roma, with the Gunners strongly considering a new contract offer for the Swiss midfielder, reports The Athletic.

- Hector Bellerin is close to exiting Arsenal, with his agent flying to London for talks with the Gunners about a move to Inter, claims Calciomercato. Inter are looking to replace Achraf Hakimi who left for Paris Saint-Germain.

- Sport1 claims that Liverpool have been unable to meet Borussia Moenchengladbach's €40m (£34m) asking price for midfielder Florian Neuhaus but remain interested.

Raphael Varane has posted a heartfelt goodbye to Real Madrid ahead of his transfer to Manchester United.

It was announced on Tuesday that the Red Devils had agreed a deal in principle to sign the France centre-back, who had a year left on his contract with LaLiga giants Madrid.

United are reported to be paying a fee of £42.7million (€50m) to secure the transfer, with the player set to travel to England this week, where he will undergo a period of isolation before completing a medical.

Varane visited Madrid's Valdebebas training ground on Friday for the final time before departing the club where he won four Champions Leagues and three LaLiga titles among a host of trophies following his arrival from Lens in 2011.

"These past few days have been charged with many emotions, feelings that I now want to share with all of you," he wrote on Instagram.

"After 10 incredible and wonderful years at Real Madrid, a club I will always carry in my heart, the day has come to say goodbye.

"Since I arrived in 2011, together we exceeded all expectations and achieved things I could never have dreamed of.

"I would like to thank all the coaches and all the people who work or have worked for the club for everything they have done for me.

"Many thanks also to all the Madridistas who always gave me a lot of affection and with their great demands pushed me to give my best and to fight for every success.

"I have had the honour of sharing a dressing room with the best players in the world. Countless victories I will never forget, especially 'La Decima'. I realise it's been a great privilege to have been able to experience such special moments.

"Finally, I want to thank all Spaniards and especially the city of Madrid, where my two children were born. This country will always be special to me.

"It's been an incredible journey in every way. I leave with the feeling of having given everything and I will not change a single thing in this story of ours.

"A new chapter begins..."

 

Kieran Trippier has one year remaining on his Atletico Madrid contract.

The England international has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United.

It has been reported that Trippier wants to return to England, having left Tottenham for LaLiga in 2019.

 

TOP STORY - TRIPPIER TO WAIT ON UNITED MOVE

Manchester United target Kieran Trippier is willing to wait until late in the transfer window to secure his move, reports the Telegraph.

Atletico Madrid full-back Trippier is said to have set his sights on a move to United, who have already been busy in the transfer market by launching moves for Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane.

The report claims Trippier is prepared to sit tight and wait for United to raise the funds required to put together a move for the 30-year-old former Manchester City junior.

 

ROUND-UP

- Aston Villa are ready to restart talks with Jack Grealish about a new deal next week as Manchester City begin to ramp up their interest, according to the Express and Star.

- Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma is being lined up by West Ham,  with a proposed £20m bid set to be tabled, according to the Daily Mail. It had been reported Zouma may be used in a deal for Sevilla's Jules Kounde.

- Barcelona are lining up a second bid to sign Juventus defender Cristian Romero after having had a player-plus-cash deal turned down, reports SportItalia. Tottenham are also keen on Romero.

- Celtic could make a move for ex-England goalkeeper Joe Hart, who is currently on Tottenham's books, says BBC Sport.

Dani Carvajal has signed a new four-year contract at Real Madrid which will keep him at the Santiago Bernabeu until 2025.

Right-back Carvajal joins midfielder Luka Modric and versatile defender Nacho in agreeing fresh terms with the club ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Carvajal came through the youth ranks but was sold to Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in July 2012 having not managed to make a single first-team appearance.

However, Madrid exercised a buy-back option on Carvajal the following year and he has since gone on to become a regular, helping the club secure plenty of silverware. He has won LaLiga twice with Madrid, as well as the Champions League on four occasions.

However, Carvajal struggled with injury problems last season, making just 13 appearances in LaLiga as Zinedine Zidane's squad were unable to defend their league crown.

A hamstring injury ruled him out of contention for Spain's squad for Euro 2020 but he has begun training with his Madrid team-mates under the watch of new head coach Carlo Ancelotti ahead of the upcoming campaign.

 

Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland? How about both? The questions are the same as Real Madrid enter each transfer window. As in 2020, though, such queries are wholly unrealistic.

Prior to last season, which began just six months into the coronavirus pandemic, Madrid were not able to make a single first-team signing. Their most significant business was the €40million sale of Achraf Hakimi to Inter.

It is a similar story 12 months on, having failed to deliver silverware in front of an empty Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium. Free agent David Alaba is Los Blancos' sole recruit and even his arrival is offset by the departures of fellow centre-backs Sergio Ramos – at the end of his contract – and Raphael Varane – with a sale to Manchester United agreed for €50m.

Financial results earlier this month reported a loss in revenue of "close to €300m" due to the pandemic. A post-tax profit of €874,000 for 2020-21 was achieved due to "intense spending saving measures in all areas", read a statement, which added: "With regard to the economic situation, current forecasts indicate that the recovery from the pre-pandemic situation will not be immediate. In this context, the club will continue in the effort so far to contain spending."

One of the world's grandest clubs are doing things on the cheap. A change of coach was only initiated by Zinedine Zidane, whose replacement, Carlo Ancelotti, has been plucked from mid-table Everton – although Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri claimed this week he was offered the position.

Ancelotti has been here before, of course, having led Madrid to 'La Decima' in 2013-14 after a 12-year wait. How he raises the club again without this time breaking the world transfer record two months into the role is another question – one Stats Perform attempts to answer with the aid of Opta data.

Return of rapid Real?

Just as Ancelotti is returning to Madrid, so too is Gareth Bale. It was he who Madrid splashed out €100m on to inspire Ancelotti's first side to Champions League glory. Now he could be handed a starring role again.

The winger appeared to have no future under Zidane but will surely be the chief beneficiary if Ancelotti returns the team to the attacking approach he employed previously at the Santiago Bernabeu. Across his two seasons at the helm, Madrid scored 222 LaLiga goals – 22 more than across the past three campaigns combined now.

That would mean a significant shift, though. Zidane's men have not just scored fewer goals, they have moved at a slower pace. Madrid averaged 4.7 passes and 12.7 seconds per sequence in the league in 2020-21, with 662 open-play sequences of 10 passes or more. In 2013-14, with Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria leading a rapid forward line, Madrid's sequences typically lasted only 3.9 passes and 10.3 seconds, with just 475 10-plus pass sequences. Those numbers only marginally increased in Ancelotti's second season.

 

This change in style is also evidenced by Madrid's direct speed, having moved 1.93 metres upfield per second in 2013-14 but just 1.41 in an average sequence last term. Making the most of the attributes of Bale, Ronaldo and Di Maria, that Madrid team had 122 direct attacks but only 112 build-up attacks – figures that have altered drastically in opposite directions to 87 and 165 respectively.

The football under Ancelotti was undoubtedly exciting and appeals again. Even as he was sacked in 2015, president Florentino Perez said: "The affection that the players and the fans have for Carlo is the same as the affection I myself have for him." Implementing that system again may not be entirely straightforward, though.

Ancelotti arrived in 2013 only a year removed from the 121-goal 2011-12 LaLiga campaign – the most Madrid have ever scored in a season. The Italian gave his superstars the freedom to play but did not need to reconfigure their approach. That tallies with the rest of a glittering career to date, which has chiefly seen him credited with man-managing big names rather than introducing the sort of tactical tweaks that might almost double a team's attacking output.

If that is Ancelotti's desire, though, between Bale, Vinicius Junior and Eden Hazard, Madrid should at least still have the players to tear through teams at pace. Indeed, getting Hazard fit and firing two years and four goals into his LaLiga career will be as crucial as rehabilitating Bale. The former Chelsea forward may put the famed 'diva whisperer' to the test, but Madrid cannot afford to have a €100m man not contributing.

Age is against Ancelotti

Madrid's play without the ball has also changed in the time Ancelotti has been away, and getting them to perform in this regard as they did during his first stint will be more difficult still. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro – Madrid's long-standing midfield trio – were on board when Ancelotti left the club six years ago. Modric will be 36 in September. Class and experience are on their side, but the energy of youth is not.

With Di Maria occupying a key role in the 4-2-3-1 formation and Modric finding his feet in Spain, Madrid pressed relentlessly in 2013-14. Opponents were allowed only 9.3 passes per defensive action (PPDA) amid Los Blancos' 499 pressed sequences. As a result, Madrid's attacks started 42.3 metres upfield on average, boosted by their 179 high turnovers, of which 45 led to shots and nine to goals.

Even Ancelotti could not maintain these standards the following year, as Di Maria departed for the Premier League while a thigh injury restricted Modric to 16 games. Madrid regressed in every category.

In 2021, it is not that Madrid do not press, it is that they do not do so with the same intensity. There were 430 pressed sequences last term and still an impressive 178 high turnovers, but opponents were allowed 11.3 PPDA, with Madrid unable to harry at a comparable rate. It is unlikely that statistic improves as Kroos also moves through his thirties and yet more minutes are pumped into the legs of one of modern football's great midfields. The emergence of Federico Valverde – young and versatile – helps, but Ancelotti may well face the unenviable task of dismantling a unit he helped put together.

 

Alaba alters the complexion

To this point, with a former coach returning to guide the same players, Madrid's approach appears closer to devolution than evolution or revolution. The defence at least will ensure this team has a new sheen, albeit not one that necessarily improves Ancelotti's chances of success at home or abroad.

Alaba is a fine player with vast experience, six years younger than Ramos but with 10 Bundesliga titles and two Champions League triumphs to his name. It is a like-for-like change that makes sense, even with Ramos' emotional ties to the Bernabeu. However, asking Alaba to also replace Varane, the outgoing captain's stalwart defensive partner, feels like a tough ask.

Rather than settle into a new club in a new country alongside a World Cup winner – "Varane, of course, I would like to play with him," Alaba said as recently as last week – Madrid's sole signing seems set to be asked to perform the role of the senior man alongside Eder Militao, who has made just 23 LaLiga starts across two seasons.

Yet Militao crucially has attributes Alaba does not, with the converted full-back far less combative than the two departed defenders. At Bayern, in the Bundesliga last season, Alaba contested only 5.0 duels per 90 minutes – fewer than Varane (5.4), Ramos (6.4) and Militao (7.9) in LaLiga. He won just 55.4 per cent of those, another low as Varane (67.9 per cent) led the way.

Militao could then be tasked with getting tight to opposition forwards, but Alaba might find it tougher to avoid being picked on in the air. He contested a meagre 1.2 aerial duels per 90, down on 2.3 for Varane, 4.3 for Ramos and 5.2 for Militao. As Varane won a league-leading 76.0 per cent of these duels and Ramos came out on top in 63.8 per cent, opponents faced a scrap against either centre-back. Alaba's 51.4 per cent success rate shows why he tends to avoid such encounters.

An area of real strength for Madrid could now become a weakness. Only Sevilla (four) conceded fewer headed goals than Madrid (five) in the league last term, while Real Betis (five goals conceded) were the sole side to be tighter from set-pieces than Zidane's outfit (six). With Ramos and Varane marshalling the area, Madrid faced the fourth-fewest headed attempts (58). They are unlikely to rank as impressively again with 5ft 11in Alaba at the heart of the defence.

Madrid are unlikely to make the most of Alaba's versatility – well stocked at left-back but now short in the middle of the back line – yet his ability on the ball, honed in different roles, should at least help to keep Ancelotti's men on the front foot. Part of a dominant Bayern team, Alaba was involved in 4.6 shot-ending sequences and 0.7 goal-ending sequences per 90, having a bigger hand in such opportunities than Ramos (3.9 and 0.4) or Varane (2.9 and 0.3).

Being able to start attacks from the back plays into the idea Madrid should be set up to again thrill supporters under Ancelotti. Whether they can combine entertainment with results, as the 2013-14 team did so successfully, might be another matter.

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