How to deploy a host of galácticos, including James Rodríguez, battling on multiple fronts, will tax the manager to the limit
As a neat illustration of the juggling, not to mention tactical tweaks, that lie ahead at the Bernabéu, take a conversation with the Real Madrid assistant manager at the team's hotel in Dallas during their pre-season tour. The Guardian had rattled off a potential line-up for the assault on La Liga and a Champions League defence to Paul Clement. It was a powerful side selected from this lavishly constructed squad of galácticos – one that incorporated the £63m new arrival, James Rodríguez, at No10 even if it did rather shoehorn the close season's other major capture, Toni Kroos, into deep-lying midfield.
"But you've left out a couple of other World Cup winners in Iker Casillas and Xabi Alonso," pointed out Clement, disguising surprise at the omissions perhaps only out of politeness. "As well as another one in Sami Khedira from this summer. Not to mention Raphaël Varane, who played in the Champions League final, or Isco. And there's no Marcelo and Illarra. Or Ángel di María, who was man of the match in Lisbon. He had more assists than anyone in La Liga last year. Come to think of it, would there be a better midfield in world football than Alonso holding behind Luka Modric and Kroos in a three? And you've not even put Alonso in. You see, not easy, is it … " Tricky indeed, if for all the best reasons.
No one really should have wondered how Real would approach life with their décima achieved. They have simply done what their president, Florentino Pérez, always does and lured another mouth-watering array of recruits to the Spanish capital. to build on this team's glittering legacy There can be few bolder statements of intent than prising the World Cup's leading scorer, Rodríguez – six goals for Colombia in Brazil after 12 assists, the most of any player, in Ligue 1 last season – from Monaco while also plucking Kroos from Bayern Munich. These seem like upgrades, improvements even for a team that had scored a record number of Champions League goals en route to their 10th European Cup three months ago.
The manager, Carlo Ancelotti, expects departures before the season starts. The £80m arrival of Gareth Bale a year ago had to be balanced by the sales of Gonzalo Higuaín and Mesut Özil. Di María, Khedira and Isco are the likeliest to leave this time. Yet Real will still possess enviable depth and, as Karim Benzema talks over new terms, they still hope to secure Radamel Falcao. The 20-man squad in Texas for the International Champions Cup was relatively youthful. The drip-feed of talent returning to the training ground has offered a reminder of the manager's options: Rodríguez, Benzema, Varane as World Cup quarter-finalists, and Sergio Ramos and Casillas, who had been granted extended leave, were the first wave back at the turn of the month; Kroos, Khedira, Marcelo and Di María followed.
They have a week to prepare for the Uefa Super Cup against Sevilla at Cardiff City's stadium on 12 August, the first of six trophies Real are targeting. The sheer weight of games may prove a boon as players who always expect to feature find they are used selectively. "We were stretched at times last year and had a few long-term injuries like Khedira [knee ligament], so we were virtually operating with 18 outfield players for 60-odd games," said Clement, who has also worked with Ancelotti at Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain. "It will still be competitive in certain positions whatever happens. Healthy competition. And that is a different kind of issue for Carlo to deal with.
"He has a knowledge of the game in terms of tactics and strategies and that ability to teach and coach even the best players. But just as valuable is the ability to manage the dressing room, while also dealing with individuals' needs. That's what elevates him to another level. I've seen him do it at three different clubs now. He has a reputation for being lenient but that's not the case. He shows empathy. He's compassionate. One to one, managing the individual, he engages and that's a power. That's a strength."
Ancelotti might have lost his job had Atlético Madrid not been beaten in Lisbon in May, such is the precarious nature of Real life. Incorporating Pérez's latest playthings into his selection is merely the next problem he must confront at the world's most high-profile club. Last season he favoured a 4-3-3, albeit a line-up which changed depending on the opposition or occasion. A selfless Benzema was comfortable allowing Bale and Ronaldo to wreak havoc cutting in from the flanks. Falcao may wish to be more integral, while Rodríguez prefers the No10 role once earmarked for Isco but almost redundant in Ancelotti's preferred system last year. If the new arrival plays there – in the middle of an attacking trio who cost in excess of £225m – there are implications for those at his back: some combination of Alonso, Kroos, Illarra and Modric (or even Di María and Khedira) must sit deeper. The manager does at least have considerable scope to chop and change.
He will approach all this with that trademark wry smile and arched eyebrow as he seeks a formula to maintain the momentum from Lisbon. An ability to laugh off the more intense pressures in his job is another of his skills.
"There's enough pressure created at Real given the magnitude of the club: the constant observation and analysis of everything that goes on, the fact you're expected to win every game you play and to play well and always entertain," Clement said. "That creates pressure but Carlo knows you don't need to create extra stress in training. That sense of humour of his can calm things down. It's the best way. Our motivation is clear: there are six trophies on offer and we go for all six. It could be a great year." It may yet prove remarkable if the management can strike a balance.
1 Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): López; Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe, Coentrão; Kroos, Modric; Bale, Rodríguez, Ronaldo; Falcao.
2 Real Madrid (4-3-3): Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Alonso, Modric; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.
3 Real Madrid (4-1-2-1-2): Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Coentrão; Alonso; Kroos, Modric; Rodríguez; Bale, Ronaldo.
4 Real Madrid (4-3-3): López; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Di María, Alonso, Kroos; Ronaldo, Isco, Bale.
5 Real Madrid (4-4-2): Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe, Coentrão; Rodríguez, Alonso, Kroos, Bale; Ronaldo, Benzema.