Finding James a new home on Madrid's to-do list ahead of preseason tour
Zinedine Zidane has been getting his summer business out of the way in tidy order as he prepares his Real Madrid squad for the 2017-18 season. The recent additions of Atletico left-back Theo Hernandez and, reportedly, Real Betis and Spain under-21 midfielder Dani Ceballos have all but concluded the Frenchman's immediate affairs in the transfer market, even if the latter smacks somewhat of Madrid's historical tendency to lick their lips at the current flavour of the month without due consideration as to where the player may fit into the club's plans.
However, there are still a few odds and ends on Zidane's to-do list before the squad convenes this week for the preseason tour of the United States, where the Frenchman will expect to be working with the players he will have at his disposal for the defence of Real's Liga and Champions League titles.
Keep the faith with Keylor
Rumours of a big-money goalkeeping arrival refuse to go away but equally, to his credit, does Keylor Navas, who has ridden several tumultuous waves during his Madrid career but has doggedly held on to the No. 1 spot nonetheless. With David De Gea and Thibaut Courtois now apparently discarded as potential targets it has fallen to recalcitrant AC Milan stopper Gianluigi Donnarumma to fill the transfer gossip void. While that move may make plenty of sense, it would be in everybody's interest to avoid a summer-long farce like the De Gea debacle of 2015.
Florentino Perez has said he will speak to Zidane about the situation between the sticks at the earliest possible opportunity. The manager must either sanction a move for a new keeper or publicly back the one he possesses.
Sign cover for Carvajal
Dani Carvajal's hamstring injury layoff at the tail end of last season was hardly an isolated incident and although he is undoubtedly first choice under Zidane, history dictates that he will not remain problem-free for an entire season after a raft of muscle, foot and heel concerns since his return to the Bernabeu. Danilo acquitted himself well in Carvajal's stead during the run-in, but the likelihood is that he will be allowed to leave this summer and tears will be shed sparingly among Real fans if and when the Brazilian does move to Serie A.
Despite the returns of Marcos Llorente, Jesus Vallejo and Borja Mayoral to fill some gaps in the squad with youthful backup, Carvajal's flank remains unattended. As things stand, it is the only gap in Real's armour going into preseason.
Find a home for James
Ceballos' arrival effectively signals the end of James Rodriguez's Real Madrid career, with the Betis midfielder set to assume the Colombian international's place on the bench for the 2017-18 campaign. The jury will remain out on Ceballos for the first half of the season at least, but the potential for the Spain junior international -- who starred at the under-21 Euros this summer -- to go the way of Sergio Canales is a reasonable concern. Zidane's primary task between now and the squad's departure should be to remove last season's malcontent from the picture as swiftly as possible.
That is not a slight on James, who remained a fine if underused option last season, but a simple exercise in numbers. With Llorente in the picture to provide competition for Casemiro, Real's midfield is overstocked and something has to give. Unfortunately for James, Real seem intent in pricing him out of a move to Manchester United, his preferred destination.
Perez's hardball tactics with Alvaro Morata led the Old Trafford board to move for Romelu Lukaku instead, and the danger is that a similar stand-off with James will leave Zidane with a player he simply can't afford to hand a squad number to. Real paid €80 million for the 2014 World Cup Golden Boot winner; it's time to accept a huge financial hit is heading in the direction of the Bernabeu's bank balance and Bayern are reportedly willing to negotiate.
Give Morata what he wants
The breakdown of the Spain international's transfer to Old Trafford leaves both player and club in a bit of a pickle. United were the only side to express serious interest in Morata, but Real's optimistic valuation led Jose Mourinho to seek proven Premier League experience in Lukaku instead. Chelsea may previously have been interested but are unlikely now to make a move for what will be viewed by fans as a compromise signing, even if Perez lowers his asking price.
Morata is fast running out of options and after very publicly seeking a move he faces a struggle to assert his influence on Zidane's thinking for the season ahead. That said, the Real boss is a wily operator and he will recognise that there is little on the market to readily replace a homegrown backup striker with Morata's particular skill set -- not least the 24-year-old's ability to operate on the wings.
Morata wants more games, plain and simple. In a season featuring three competitions and the Club World Cup, there will be plenty to go around. Given the comparative unimportance of the preseason jaunt to the U.S. and the two Super Cups, Zidane could start devolving sole responsibility from Karim Benzema before the season starts in earnest.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.