Real Madrid’s combination of galactico geriatricos have one last shot at glory before the team is set to be broken up this summer.
Real went into the second leg looking towards Luka Modric as the key to victory. That is a credit to the original purchase from Tottenham last decade, but it points to a key challenge that Real face. It is not necessarily a problem, because if they get it right they will improve, but if they fail to adequately manage it, it could derail their title challenges, at home and abroad, for years to come.
Modric is 36, and the club still want to keep him for another year. Alongside him, Toni Kroos is 32, and doubts over his fitness match reflect that time is starting to catch up with him. He is not the only 30-something who may be on his way out of the Bernabeu, either this season or next.
Marcelo, a hugely experienced head, has been phased out over the last season and a half, and at 33 it is no longer worth keeping him on a hefty contract. Better to let others take his place in the squad. Gareth Bale will be coming to the end of his £600,000-a-week deal this summer before he moves elsewhere. By the time the summer comes around, Isco will be 30 and it has to be accepted that he will not fulfil his early promise. Nobody expects any of them to be at the club come August.
They will be joined by others on the way out. Players who have not convinced the club of their worth. Luka Jovic barely got a look-in, but he hardly made an irresistible case. Marco Asensio could be sold if the right offer comes in. Mariano, Dani Ceballos and even Eden Hazard have done little to earn the patience of Florentino Perez and whoever comes in to take over from Carlo Ancelotti.
There’s also a chance that there might not be any room for Karim Benzema, 34, next season. The Frenchman was often reduced to a supporting role when Cristiano Ronaldo and other galacticos were present, but he has grown into his seniority, providing both regular and important goals, as well as assists and leadership. But should both Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland arrive, then it is difficult to think he will have anywhere to sit on the bench, and it is just as hard to believe that Real Madrid will pay him handsomely to do so. An exit looks pragmatic above all else.
That’s the difficulty, that however Real approach next season, there is huge work to do. Mbappe would be a brilliant start, and Haaland would make for an alarmingly good front two, the best on show in Europe. That would cost the best part of £150m in signing on and transfer fees, we could guess. The wage demands would be commensurate with ability – astronomical.
And that leaves the club needing to secure one or two central midfielders aiming to replace two of the most consistent and dominant performers in Europe. To replace one of the most effective and rounded strikers in a front three. And then to find three or four other players to take up spare places in the squad, at the same time as dealing either with Hazard’s remaining years at the club or to pay him off to start again elsewhere.
With the result now settled between PSG and Real, a deal for Mbappe could be made swiftly, but however Ancelotti ends this season – on a high or disposed of by Perez and the board – there is a fundamental restructuring coming.
This is the current’s side last chance for one more shot at European glory. They could still take that chance alongside their chase of La Liga the end the season, and this era of the club’s history in style.