?Real Madrid conceded a worrying six goals in their opening four league games of the 2019/20 campaign, but they soon tightened up at the back and now hold the best defensive record in the division.
Indeed, before football was suspended due to the coronavirus crisis, Los Blancos had conceded the fewest goals (19) and had kept the most clean sheets (13) of any side in La Liga.
Yet, Zinedine Zidane is on the lookout for a new central defender. Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are the undisputed first-choice centre-backs, but the former is once again at war with the club as he looks to renew his current deal, which expires in the summer of 2021.
Whether he does sign a new deal or not, the Spanish giants will need a new world class partner for Varane as Ramos is 34. Nacho Fernandez’s future also remains up in the air, while the versatile Eder Militao has been utilised in all areas of defence, rather than primarily in the centre.
For these reasons, here’s a look at six centre backs Real could and should realistically target when the transfer window does open…
RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano has attracted a lot of attention as a result of his fine Bundesliga displays.
The Frenchman has been a key figure for Leipzig this season, starting 21 of his side’s 25 league games before football was suspended. His resolute performances at the back have not only helped RB concede the joint fewest goals in the Bundesliga in 2019/20, but have also aided them in their surprise title charge.
The 21-year-old has refused to extend his contract which expires in June 2021, and Zidane is said to have placed Upamecano at the top of his wishlist for this summer. He is not the finished article just yet, but he has all the necessary qualities to compete for a starting berth at Real for years to come, and it appears as though Zidane also thinks highly of him.
Potential Price: £45m-60m
Ruben Dias has once again been a key figure for Benfica in 2019/20, playing the full 90 minutes in every league game before football was suspended indefinitely. During this time, he has helped the Portuguese outfit to keep a league-high 14 clean sheets.
The tall Portuguese defender is commanding in his work and plays with a maturity well beyond his years. In fact, he even captained the side during their Champions League group stage tussles with Lyon.
Dias ?signed a contract extension back in November of 2019 that will run until 2024, while this also saw his release clause raised to €100m. Yet, despite this, Europe’s elite continue to circle for the 22-year-old and ?a fee closer to £40m has been reported. Dias is a star of the future, but he is more than capable of challenging for a starting role now at the heart of Real’s defence should he be brought in during the next window.
Potential Price: £40m-60m
Kalidou Koulibaly has been linked with a move away from ?Napoli in recent transfer windows, with Manchester United the club most often mentioned.
While any deal for the defender will not come cheap, a move makes a lot of sense for ?Real and Zidane. Koulibaly’s quality is undoubted, with the Senegal international’s pace and power allowing him to comfortably dispossess his opponent with considerable ease. His calmness and awareness also allows him to play out from the back effectively, either bringing the ball forward himself or looking to play a pass.
Aged 28, Koulibaly is in the peak years of his career and it’s been claimed that he’s informed Napoli ?president Aurelio De Laurentiis of his desire to move on. A move for the defender could be contingent on Ramos’ situation, but despite this, Koulibaly could be the man to make Los Blancos formidable at the back.
Potential Price: £65m-80m
?Mino Raiola claimed recently that he’s looking to take one of his clients to Real Madrid when the transfer window opens. And while Alessio Romagnoli perhaps may not be the most high profile name on his list of clientele, he would still be a very good addition for Los Blancos.
Captain of ?Milan, Romagnoli has seen added pressure placed on his shoulders due to the struggles of his club in recent times. Yet, his performances have remained consistent in the heart of the defence.
Playing every minute of league action this season, the Italy international has been resolute in his work, marshalling his defence and sniffing out danger. Aged just 25, Romagnoli is the perfect blend of youth and experience. And in today’s inflated market, he could prove to be ?very good value for money.
Potential Price: £35m-50m
Diego Carlos’ value has risen rapidly in recent months.
The defender joined Sevilla from Nantes last summer for around £13.5m, but following a number of stellar displays in the heart of defence in 2019/20, he is already being linked with a big money move away.
Carlos himself is ?open to joining ‘a bigger club’ and there aren’t too many bigger clubs than Real Madrid. The no-nonsense centre-back has improved Sevilla’s defence drastically this season, and while he is physically imposing, he has proven that he’s more than comfortable with the ball at his feet.
The 27-year-old does have a release clause of £65m inserted into his deal, and his club will look to not settle for anything less. But if Real come in with a reasonable offer, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sevilla part ways if they are able to make a considerable profit.
Potential Price: £35m-45m
The cheapest alternative and perhaps the least well-known player on this list.
Mohammed Salisu has been another surprise standout performer in ?La Liga this season, and it appears as though he will be making the step up from Real Valladolid sooner rather than later. Standing 6ft 3in tall, Salisu is an intimidating presence at the back and has even been dubbed ‘the wall of Valladolid’ by some.
However, the 20-year-old is equally impressive technically, with the defender composed and bright on the ball. Salisu is a gifted player and would be an ideal acquisition for any side, but the fact that his release clause is only €12m (£10.42m) will make him even more appealing to those interested.
Real Madrid could do a lot worse than pick up Salisu at a very, very reasonable cost.
Potential Price: £10.42m (release clause)
For more from Adam Aladay, follow him on Twitter!