Real Madrid have fluctuated plenty under Carlo Ancelotti during the last 18 months, but if there has been a consistent flaw to his side, it has been the defence.
Despite winning the Champions League last season, only in the final did they display some semblance of solidity. Even that solidity was something of a mask, considering Thibaut Courtois made another 9 saves, setting a record in Champions League competition.
Throughout the knockout stages, Los Blancos conceded goals, 11 of them in six games to be precise. It led to some heroic comebacks and some incredible moments, but it is generally not a sustainable modus operandi.
This season, matters have only worsened. With Antonio Rudiger taking the minutes of Nacho Fernandez and replacing David Alaba and Eder Militao when not fit, the Real Madrid defence has looked more disjointed than ever under Ancelotti. The full-backs, Ferland Mendy and Dani Carvajal are both responsible for significant errors in successive weeks that cost Real Madrid dearly.
“Five of the six goals we conceded were avoidable,” Ancelotti remarked about a three-game run against Villarreal, Valencia and Barcelona. “We have been very optimistic recently, we need to become pessimists again,” he followed up. Los Blancos might have been victorious, but they conceded twice again in the Copa del Rey against Villarreal.
Previously, it had been thought that the forward line and the midfield were more in need of investment, but recent form has convinced many that the backline needs refurbishing too.
Fichajes say that Real Madrid are looking at an €80m deal for RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol – although not as a central defender, but a left-back replacement for Mendy. With Chelsea spending a fortune on Benoit Badiashile and others, it might open the door for Real Madrid to elbow there way in.
Generally, investing so heavily in a player only to use them outside of their natural position is ill-advised. However Gvardiol gives such an air of superiority on the pitch, that it might just work. His use of the ball is excellent and he is comfortable trying to beat a man too. In many ways, he is the complete defender at just 20, although naturally he has room to grow.
Looking at many of the top teams currently, most tend to go for something of a hybrid back three/four, with one more attacking full-back operating higher and another holding their position more. Gvardiol could certainly perform that role for Real Madrid, although whether Carvajal would be suited opposite him is another question.
From what has been seen of Gvardiol so far, it is hard to argue that he would not be an upgrade on Ferland Mendy currently, both with and without the ball. While the price tag is steep, it might well work out as value.
The Croatian profiles as one of the best defenders in the world for the next decade and more, meaning the fee would likely even itself out. Florentino Perez also sanctioned an even pricier deal for Aurelien Tchouameni last summer, as he was forecast as part of their midfield for the next decade. Gvardiol is younger and just as good at this point.
If Real Madrid are to replace Ferland Mendy, there will be cheaper defenders, and perhaps even profiles more suited to the role, given Gvardiol naturally exercises in the middle. Yet in terms of a sound investment, there is an argument to say that there is no better defender to spend that money on in world football.