Real Madrid 2013-2014 Season Preview: Roster

GOALKEEPERS

#1: Iker Casillas

Real Madrid's Captain is considered by many to be one of the best keepers in the game. His lightning-fast reflexes and proclivity to make seemingly-impossible saves earned him the monicker of "Saint Iker." Casillas is skilled at defending his goal during one-on-one situations and penalty shootouts; however, his weakness lies in commanding the area during rivals' set piece opportunities. He is known to struggle with aerial balls and prefers to stay home rather than venture forward to punch or catch the ball. Iker kicks off the 2013-2014 campaign on the heels of a personally difficult season in which he injured his hand and lost his starting berth to fellow academy product Diego López. Manager Carlo Ancelotti has experimented with both goalies during the preseason so it will be interesting to see whether he chooses an undisputed starting goalkeeper or rotates both players.

#25: Diego López

Signed last season as an emergency fill-in for the injured Casillas, Diego López took his opportunity as Real Madrid's starting goalkeeper and ran with it. López is the total package: tall (6' 5"), long, with quick reflexes and nearly impeccable ball distribution. The 31-year-old Diego excels in the aerial game whether it be intercepting crosses or blocking free kicks. Both he and Iker Casillas would undoubtedly qualify for any shortlist of "World's Best Goalies," so Real Madrid is truly fortunate to have them both on the team.

#13: Antonio Adán

Former Castilla captain Antonio Adán finds himself in a tough spot ahead of the 2013-2014 season. Last season, Jose Mourinho controversially benched Iker Casillas for Adán during Real Madrid's 2-3 league loss to Málaga. Adán played a total of seven games across all competitions but did not inspire the manager's confidence, leading Mourinho to sign Diego López in the winter transfer window. The 26-year-old Adán has been reportedly seeking a transfer away from the Spanish capital, but such a deal has yet to materialize.

#35: Jesús

Rounding out Real Madrid's goalkeeping unit is former Castilla keeper Jesús. The 25-year-old, 6' 3" keeper is known for his athletic prowess, quick reflexes, and ability to hold his own in a one-on-one situation. Naturally, Jesús finds himself behind Casillas and López in the pecking order and will most likely see little playing time should Iker and Diego have a healthy season.

DEFENDERS

#2: Raphaël Varane

Raphaël Varane exceeded all expectations last season and proved to be one of the best center backs in world football at only twenty years old. Elegant on the ball, athletic, tall, mature and composed, Varane boasts the unique quality of producing beautiful football from a defensive perspective. His ability to anticipate opponents' moves and produce the cleanest slide tackles in the game makes him an incredibly reliable choice for Carlo Ancelotti. Varane rarely gets carded and carries himself with a quiet intensity that has translated into show-stopping performances against the likes of Lionel Messi and Didier Drogba. Varane underwent surgery to correct a minor knee injury this past summer, and while he is said to be recovering well, he may not feature immediately as one of Ancelotti's starters.

#3: Pepe

Portuguese center back Pepe is a complicated player. Despite a not-so-glamorous past involving moments of poor sportsmanship and aggression toward opponents, he displayed maturity and growth under Jose Mourinho and became one of the game's top center backs (see Euro 2012). Unfortunately for Real Madrid, Pepe succumbed to injury and underwent surgery during the 2012-2013 winter break and has yet to recover his previous form. Pepe partnered Varane in Real Madrid's 1-4 defeat to Borussia Dortmund but lacked the speed, mobility and anticipation to stop a red-hot Robert Lewandowski, leading many to pin the loss on the Portuguese star. At his best, Pepe brings intensity, energy, and superb heading skills both on defensive clearances and offensive set pieces. At his worst, Pepe is a red card waiting to happen, though he has significantly calmed his once-explosive temperament. Carlo Ancelotti values Pepe's experience and leadership skills, but that hasn't stopped the center back from being linked to clubs like Manchester City this summer.

#4: Sergio Ramos

Brave, impulsive, loyal, rash, lion-hearted: these are some of the adjectives that have been used to describe Real Madrid's Vice-Captain and starting center back Sergio Ramos. Ramos is a complete footballer: strong, dynamic, excellent in the air and with a notable technical quality befitting of such a decorated Spanish International. If you're ever wondering what fans and pundits mean when they talk about a player demonstrating "heart," then look no further than Sergio Ramos' goal against Borussia Dortmund as a prime example. The former right back has grown into his role as a center back and can often be seen shouting instructions to his teammates during a match. While Ramos is one of the hardest-working men on the pitch, he is prone to moments of indiscipline and poor decision making, especially during one-on-one situations with a rival attacker. Ramos can also be vocal to a fault, leading to frequent bookings and suspensions over the course of a season. Despite his shortcomings, few doubt his importance to the team and most are eager to see a Ramos-Varane partnership blossom this season.

#5: Fábio Coentrão

Coentrão or Marcelo? Marcelo or Coentrão? The debate over which of Real Madrid's left backs deserves to start is almost futile considering the class of both defenders. Coentrão is hands-down one of the best fullbacks in the world, displaying a versatility that led Jose Mourinho to say he could play anywhere on the pitch. Coentrão is a defensive rock on the left-side who has proven himself more than capable of managing two-against-one situations in a system where Cristiano Ronaldo tracks back less than right-winger Ángel di María. Fábio can also move forward in attack and employs the dribbling and passing skills necessary to find himself in a position to score or assist a teammate. Real Madrid would do well to keep this wonderful player on their roster; however, Coentrão has been strongly linked with a move away from the Bernabéu this summer. Keep following Managing Madrid for the latest transfer news surrounding Coentrão.

#12: Marcelo

Real Madrid's young left back embodies all the qualities you could ask for in a Brazilian footballer: out-of-this-world dribbling skills, speed, strength, flair and an eye for goal. While not as defensively-disciplined as Coentrão, Marcelo has noticeably improved his decision-making. He has produced some clutch goals in the Champions League against the likes of Manchester City and APOEL, and his presence on the pitch adds another unpredictable attacking dimension to the team. His friendship with Cristiano Ronaldo has translated into a telepathic understanding on-the-field that produces staggering creativity and scoring opportunities for Los Blancos. While Marcelo struggled for minutes in the second half of the 2012-2013 season due to a lengthy injury rehabilitation process, he showed some promising form during the 2013 Confederations Cup and is poised to become Real Madrid's starting left back should Coentrão leave the team.

#15: Dani Carvajal

This summer, Real Madrid welcomed home Dani Carvajal after an outstanding season with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in which the right back scored one goal and delivered seven assists. Carvajal has been one of the revelations of the preseason after demonstrating his impressive bursts of pace, strength on the ball, stamina, and dribbling technique. Carvajal fills a need both in the present and the future when we consider Álvaro Arbeloa's inconsistent form, age and history of injury; however, Arbeloa brings a level of experience and leadership that may see him edge out Carvajal in games against top European competition. Carvajal's precise crossing adds a new threat to the Madrid attack that will surely serve the team well this season.

#17: Álvaro Arbeloa

"The Spartan" battled poor form and injuries last season but has returned to Real Madrid fit and ready to prove his worth in the face of strong competition from Carvajal. While Arbeloa lacks the quality and confidence in attack that Coentrão, Marcelo and Carvajal possess, he offers balance and experience in defense as well as an uncanny ability to effectively mark players one-on-one. Arbeloa is a vocal leader who is not shy when it comes to demanding more from his teammates, be they Galacticos or Canteranos. While Arbeloa was an undisputed starter in Jose Mourinho's team, he went down with a nagging back injury toward the end of the season that kept him out for an extended period of time. In this sense, Carvajal's signing could be a blessing to the 30-year-old right back as both players can rotate games and reach the "business end" of the season on fresh legs.

#18: Nacho

Academy-product Nacho has spent over ten years climbing the club's youth ranks and offers Carlo Ancelotti an option at both a center back and fullback. While his pace, athleticism and average height lend themselves better to a role on the wings, Nacho has enjoyed some minutes as a utilitarian center back and performed admirably. While he is unlikely to ever unseat Ramos, Varane, or Pepe, Nacho can fill in for one of them should they ever face injury or suspension in the upcoming season.

MIDFIELDERS

#6: Sami Khedira

The German dynamo enters his fourth Real Madrid season as a proven center midfielder for both club and country. Khedira's ability to stop opponents in their tracks, recover the ball and play the smart pass makes him one of the most important players on the pitch. While his game appears to lack the flash and beauty of his compatriot Mesut Ozil, he is nonetheless a technically gifted player who always pops up with important goals over the course of the season. This year, Khedira will face some competition for his starting spot, but his physicality, vision, composure and experience all make him an ideal midfield partner to fellow center midfielders Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso, Asier Illaramendi or Casemiro.

#14: Xabi Alonso

The "Red Beard" looks to be recovered from his groin injury and is prepared to once again orchestrate Los Blancos' attacks from the heart of midfield. Gifted with vision and a jaw-dropping long-ball pass, Xabi is the source of countless Madrid counterattacks and set-piece deliveries. In past seasons, Xabi has also offered extensive defensive cover for Madrid's back-line, but age and injuries have taken a slight toll on the midfielder's overall mobility. While Madrid were thin at the center midfielder position last season, their transfer activity this summer has shored up this weakness, allowing the manager to monitor Xabi's minutes to keep him as fresh as possible.

#19: Luka Modric

Who's laughing now, Marca readers? Voted the worst transfer signing of last season, Modric has overcome the negative press to dazzle and mesmerize fans and neutrals alike with his close-control, passing, defensive work-rate and long-distance shooting. Don't be fooled by his diminutive stature- the Croatian midfielder is one of the most dynamic players on the team and is poised to have a monster season playing from box to box.

#24: Asier Illaramendi

"llara" signed for Real Madrid after leading former club Real Sociedad to a Champions League spot last season. Like his idol Xabi Alonso, Illara is gifted with a right foot that can deliver pin-point diagonal passes, blast shots from long-range and service corner kicks and set pieces. He also has a knack for interrupting rivals' counterattacks and launching his teammates on an attack of their own. Illara has struggled with a nagging muscular injury this preseason that only allowed him to feature in two games, but all signs point to a quick recovery.

#26: Casemiro

Signed for 6 million Euros from Brazilian side São Paulo, 21-year-old Casemiro has enjoyed an outstanding preseason that filled Madrid fans with hope and excitement for the year ahead. A strong, aggressive and combative midfielder, Casemiro does not shy away from contact and offers Madrid another physically imposing center midfielder in the vein of Sami Khedira. Casemiro can seemingly do it all: head the ball, deliver incisive passes, hold on to possession and shoot; nevertheless, he needs to get experience at the European level and outgrow his current tendency to talk back to referees before becoming one of Real Madrid's undisputed starters. His presence in the squad will be paramount to ensuring the likes of Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Sami Khedira get a break without sacrificing quality in the midfield.

#8: Kaká

Carlo Ancelotti has been reunited with his former AC Milan golden boy Ricardo Kaká, but will this renewed partnership be enough to "resurrect" the 2007 FIFA World Player? Kaká's tenure in Madrid has been marred by a series of groin and knee injuries that kept him away from the pitch and forced the signing of German phenom Mesut Özil (who quickly proved to be a world-class playmaker). At 31-years-old, Kaká has lost some of the devastating pace that made him virtually unplayable during his Serie A days, but he should not be written off so quickly. As an attacking midfielder, Kaká still boasts tremendous vision, slicing through-balls and a deadly long-range shot. While he is not as skilled as Modric and Özil in navigating tight spaces and maneuvering his way out of double-teams, he is typically effective when given the space to take on defenders and lead a counter-attack. Kaká will certainly find it difficult to play 90 minutes of football week-in and week-out, but Madridistas are hopeful that Ancelotti will find a role for Kaká that will allow the Brazilian star to put his talents to good use.

#10: Mesut Özil

Mesut Özil has secured a place in the hearts of Madridistas as a player capable of producing moments of beauty and elegance not seen since Zidane last played in the Bernabéu. Madrid's German playmaker appears to be on the cusp of reaching the top-tier of world football currently occupied by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and fans hope the 2013-2014 season will see Mesut take the reigns of Real Madrid's attack and lead the team to titles. With impeccable touch, control, vision, and passing, 24-year-old Mesut Özil is capable of weaving past defenders and laying off perfectly-weighted through-balls to his partners Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Ancelotti has experimented with Mesut on the right wing and the playmaker has responded brilliantly, but Mesut's exact location on the pitch this season has yet to be confirmed. The player's adaptability and high-footballing IQ means Ancelotti can deploy him either in the center or the right wing with little loss of quality, and fans are excited to see a partnership between Modric, Isco and Özil take shape this season.

#22: Ángel di María

Argentine winger Ángel di María enters his fourth Real Madrid season after a slightly disappointing 2012-2013 campaign in which the player struggled for consistent form. Consistency seems to be the key word when discussing di María, as the winger capable of brilliant plays such as the cross to CR7 for the 2011 Copa del Rey victory is also prone to moments of sloppy play and dispossession. Still, based on his preseason performances, Ángel appears to be as explosive and dynamic as ever. His stamina is something to admire as the player consistently tracks back to support his fullback before sprinting up-field to rejoin the attack. Ancelotti has deployed the Argentine in a more central playmaking role that has allowed him to blow past defenders with his scorching pace and either assist a teammate or fire on goal. While the addition of Isco and possibly Bale will reduce the playing time Ángel enjoyed under Mourinho, he appears to be happy in Madrid and could become an absolutely deadly super-sub should Carletto choose to use him that way.

#23: Isco

The object of AS's affection, Isco joins Real Madrid from Málaga and brings with him a style of play marked by creativity, ingenuity, audacity and class. The Spanish International's touch is to be admired and enjoyed in the same way fans once marveled at Ronaldinho's skills, but Isco is more than just a collection of Youtube highlights. He possesses the vision to pick-out a teammate on the opposite side of the field and the technique to shoot on goal from outside the box. He helped Málaga advance to the Champions League quarterfinals and already earned a call-up to the ultra-competitive Spanish National team. At 21-years-old, the attacking midfielder is a signing for the future, but all signs are pointing to that future starting now.

FORWARDS

#7: Cristiano Ronaldo

What can be said about the greatest player in the world that hasn't already been said? Cristiano Ronaldo scores goals with devastating frequency, and each one more beautiful than the next. Last year, the Portuguese captain scored 53 goals across all competitions. Often-described as the most "complete" player in modern football, Cristiano can do it all: shoot with both feet, score free kicks, score with his head, dribble, pass, outrun pretty much anyone and even chip in with some defensive clearances. If his preseason is anything to go by, then Cristiano is once again poised to take the league by storm as this brilliant superstar never seems to struggle for form or fitness. Carlo has experimented with Cristiano in a freer role with less defensive responsibilities, and while Cristiano seemed out-of-place initially, his awe-inspiring goals against Chelsea and Inter Milan have shown that Real Madrid's talisman has adapted to the new system just fine.

#9: Karim Benzema

With the exit of Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli, Karim Benzema kicks-off the 2013-2014 season in a position he's never found himself in: undisputed starting striker for Real Madrid. Benzema, a player blessed with the silkiest of touches, appears hungry to succeed with Real Madrid after a phenomenal preseason. Benzema is not your classic target-man striker. Rather, he is adept at finding space and drifting inward with the ball to either pass or create a scoring chance for himself. While the Frenchman's life has been complicated in the past by issues off-the-field, fans are hoping that Zinedine Zidane will whip the player into shape and help unleash the potential and quality that lies inside the mercurial striker.

#20: Jesé

After surpassing Emilio Butragueño's record to become Castilla's all-time leading goal scorer, Real Madrid's management could not deny Jesé's talents any longer and promoted the 20-year-old to the first team. Often compared to Cristiano Ronaldo for his completeness, creativity and athleticism, Jesé is arguably the brightest prospect to come out of Castilla in the last five years. His game involves mesmerizing dribbles, an ability to use both feet, and a capacity to play anywhere in the final third, be it on the wings, behind the striker, or even as the center forward. Jesé's current situation is complicated considering the player seems to be low on the pecking order despite his promise. Jesé has been linked to loan deals with other Spanish clubs but his permanence seems largely linked to the possible acquisition of Welsh star Gareth Bale.

#21: Álvaro Morata

Castilla product Álvaro Morata adds a welcome dimension to Real Madrid's strike force. At 6'3," the 20-year-old Spanish forward infuses the front line with an aerial threat and physical presence capable of maintaining possession to either shoot or put a teammate through on goal. Morata appears to be a more traditional striker but he's also demonstrated an ability to play on the wings thanks to his impressive speed and crossing. While the potential is certainly there, he could use some time and experience to polish his skills and boost his overall confidence. Unless Madrid sign Gareth Bale or another striker this summer, Morata could very well gain valuable minutes against smaller Spanish sides in La Liga and the Copa del Rey.

BONUS PROFILE

Gareth Bale

While this transfer has yet to be confirmed, there exists a possibility that Tottenham's star player Gareth Bale will join Real Madrid before the close of the transfer season. Bale is an explosive, dynamic player who has evolved from a fullback to a winger to a second-striker during his tenure with the Spurs. His pace is almost second-to-none and his knack for scoring game-winning goals would be a welcome addition to any team. Madrid President Florentino Pérez appears intent on signing the Welsh wizard, although his inclusion in Ancelotti's squad would be viewed as a luxury more than a necessity. There is no doubt that Bale is an elite player who can adapt to whatever role the coach places him in, but with Cristiano Ronaldo serving as the team's primary offensive weapon, Bale might find his role at the Bernabéu to be more limited than the one he currently occupies at White Hart Lane.

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