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Jul 28, 2014

Real Madrid adjusting to new stars

ESPN FC's Mark Donaldson contends that Angel Di Maria's puported move to PSG could make way for Edinson Cavani's move to Manchester United.

The summer signings of World Cup stars Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez will add more strings to Real Madrid's attacking bow but with a squad as deep and talented as the one at Carlo Ancelotti's disposal, something's got to give.

The pair, who arrived for a combined total of almost 90 million pounds from Bayern Munich and Monaco respectively, will only add quality to a Blancos squad that clinched La Decima last season and is the envy of most clubs around the world.

So who will they replace? While Madridistas are excited at the prospect of two of the best young players on the planet joining their ranks, their arrivals will undoubtedly be bad news for some of Madrid's current players who could be set for more time on the bench or even the Bernabeu exit door.

The Isco Situation

While there was joy among Madridistas at the addition of World Cup Golden Boot winner Rodriguez, many also questioned the need for his signing given the embarrassment of riches in Madrid's attack.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are all-but guaranteed starters and that leaves the attacking starting options limited. The former Porto man's preferred position is the same as his shirt number, No.10, just off the striker, and if Madrid are to accommodate the 23-year-old that could mean a change in formation and Isco would likely be the one to lose out.

The former Malaga man enjoyed a superb start to last season playing just behind Karim Benzema in a 4-2-3-1 line-up but should Ancelotti revert to that after finishing last season playing 4-3-3 then Rodriguez, with president Florentino Perez and club politics behind him, is set to be the man to get the nod to start.

Isco could end up thriving as a false nine for Real Madrid, but what will that mean for current striker Karim Benzema?

All is not lost for Isco, who arrived at the Bernabeu for a fee of 23 million pounds from Malaga last summer, however. The Spain under-21 international played deeper in midfield towards the back end of last season under orders from his manager, in a position that could now be accommodated by Kroos, and also gave the 'false nine' role a go to mixed success. To his advantage, the 22-year-old has become more versatile.

He played in this 'false nine' position in Madrid's opening summer friendly against Inter Milan at the weekend, and Ancelotti stated that Isco can fill the role well.

"It's not important to have a striker to score many goals but a player that passes to Cristiano and Bale," the manager said.

While Isco looked like he could be the first man out of the door with Liverpool and Manchester City linked with a swoop, it now looks like he could yet have a future in the Spanish capital in an adapted position.

Three into one won't go

With Costa Rica World Cup star Keylor Navas set to be Madrid's next addition for a fee of around 10 million euros, there are question marks over the futures of Diego Lopez, Madrid's regular La Liga goalkeeper last season, and Iker Casillas, who took charge in between the posts in the cup competitions.

The fact Los Blancos have targeted a new shot-stopper, and are willing to pay that amount to sign him from Levante, suggests he will arrive at the Bernabeu as the club's new regular No. 1 and leave last season's duo wondering what path awaits them.

From the club's point of view it will be easier to let Lopez depart. A goalkeeper who has done well on his return to the club, he was never truly loved by Madridistas given his arrival ultimately came at the expense of "San Iker" being limited to the bench more often than not. Monaco and Napoli are amongst the clubs linked with his signature and while Casillas has the romantic attachment and legend status at the Bernabeu that will make it tough for him to go, Lopez may feel more regular first-team action elsewhere is the best plan of action.

Casillas endured a nightmare World Cup with Spain and was also saved in the Champions League final after his error led to Diego Godin's opener for Atletico Madrid in Lisbon. That could have ensured the end of his time at Madrid but, as with last season, the 33-year-old may be happy to play a bit-part as the club's cup goalkeeper next season if it means staying at the club.

His presence will probably not be a good thing for Navas, with a section of Madrid fans still calling on Casillas to reclaim a regular starting role, but the Mostoles-born shot-stopper seemed to work well in tandem with Lopez last season and the same success could be enjoyed next season too.

Illarramendi's time to shine?

Along with Isco, Asier Illarramendi arrived at the Bernabeu last season for a large sum of money with Madrid having one eye on the future. Isco hit the ground running but with Basque midfielder Illarramendi, who was signed for 34 million pounds from Real Sociedad, the thought was always for him to be the successor to Xabi Alonso as Los Blancos' holding midfield man.

Ancelotti trusted him enough to hand him 20 starts last term but the majority were against the so-called lesser teams and Sami Khedira, who had spent most of the season on the sidelines through injury, was preferred in the Champions League final.

Kroos may not be a holding midfielder but he, Alonso, Luka Modric and Isco will offer stern competition for the two or three midfield slots that become available. Khedira will too should he remain a Madrid player, although Angel di Maria looks destined for Paris St Germain.

Could Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid be forced into selling some of last year's regulars to accommodate the team's new star-studded arrivals?

But while the experienced Alonso has been one of the first names down on the Madrid team sheet since his arrival from Liverpool, next season could be Illarramendi's time to step up. With a season under his belt and Alonso's legs getting no younger, the talented Basque midfielder may get more minutes than most expect next season, especially with the security of Kroos and Modric around him.

First-team regulars far from safe

While it may be natural to look at Madrid's "lesser lights" as the ones to see their roles under threat, some of last season's regular starters could be in for a shock too.

Pepe could be dislodged by a young star who has been in place for some time at the Bernabeu in Frenchman Raphael Varane. The pair had contrasting World Cups, with the Portugal international being sent off in his country's opening match while Varane took to the biggest stage, as he has done before, like a duck to water.

Varane could have started from the off last season but a knee injury thwarted his chances, leaving Sergio Ramos and Pepe to go on and form a formidable partnership, especially in the second half of the season. This summer, his time may well have come, leaving Pepe to get used to more time on the bench.

Benzema may have scored a goal in every other game last season with 25 coming in 50 matches in all competitions but quotes from his manager following the friendly against Inter could suggest he won't be starting every game as he did last season when fit.

Isco showed promise against Inter and Ancelotti hinted that he could be used more often to the benefit of net-bulgers Bale and Ronaldo. The arrival of Rodriguez only adds to those options should Ancelotti not opt to play a No. 10 just off a sole striker. Alvaro Morata may have left for Juventus and Falcao may be staying put at Monaco and the Madrid boss may have announced he does not need any more strikers, but Benzema will face stiff competition from Rodriguez and Isco, as well as Jese Rodriguez -- once he returns from his injury set-back.