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How have Real Madrid's departed players been doing this season?

There are many different factors behind Real Madrid's recent stumbles, but Cristiano Ronaldo suggested last week that the decision to jettison experienced back-up players has been a major problem.

After Zinedine Zidane's side won the La Liga and Champions League double last season, the summer brought the exit of international quality squad members such as Alvaro Morata, Pepe, James Rodriguez, Mariano Diaz, Danilo and Fabio Coentrao.

Experience was replaced by potential -- with playmaker Dani Ceballos and left-back Theo Hernandez signed from Real Betis and Atletico Madrid respectively, and former youth team players Marcos Llorente, Borja Mayoral and Jesus Vallejo promoted to the senior squad after impressing on loans elsewhere.

Madrid's new faces have had some important moments -- Ceballos and Mayoral made key contributions to La Liga wins at Alaves and Real Sociedad -- but in general the kids have been used sparingly, as Zidane kept faith with his experienced senior squad members even when the team looked in need of a shake up.

Speaking after his team were beaten 3-1 at Tottenham in the Champions League, following their shock 2-1 reverse at La Liga newcomers Girona the previous weekend, Ronaldo made clear he felt the squad had been weakened last summer.

"I think the new players we've added to the squad lately are full of potential and they will be the future of Real Madrid," Ronaldo said. "But if you ask me, yes, all teams need great players. Obviously Pepe was a great player, Morata, James, all the players who left made us stronger. I am not saying the players who came in are not, but they are younger. It is their first year in the team."

Ronaldo's comments were put to Zidane before the weekend's La Liga game at home to Las Palmas, with the manager not keen to look backwards or get into a debate. "You must accept what has happened," Zidane said. "I am only interested in the team we have today."

So it seems a good time to take a look at how the players Madrid allowed leave last summer have been getting on at their new clubs.

Alvaro Morata - Chelsea - €65 million

Morata got 20 goals for Madrid in 2016-17, despite being mostly used as a substitute or back-up when one of the BBC (Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale Cristiano Ronaldo) trio were rested. "They treated me like the lad that I was before my two years [on loan at Juventus] in Italy," Morata recalled of that season at the Bernabeu last week, which helps to explain his departure to Chelsea this summer.

Even with some injury issues, the Spain international has quickly become key for his new club. The winner in Chelsea's 1-0 Premier League victory against Manchester United was his seventh goal in his first 10 Premier League outings, while he also scored at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League in September.

Pepe - Besiktas - free

Pepe was released by Madrid last summer, after the club reportedly only offered him a one-year extension, when he wanted at least a two-year deal.

The Portugal international, 34, has played 10 of Besiktas' 11 Turkish Super Lig games this season, and all 360 minutes as the Black Eagles have dominated their Champions League group ahead of the more fancied Monaco, Porto and Leipzig.

"Thanks to Pepe the team is organised," said Besiktas director Ahmet Urkmezgil. "The team sees him as a saviour. He has given confidence to everyone."

James Rodriguez during Bayern Munich's Bundesliga game against RB Leipzig.
James Rodriguez has been missed as a backup.

James Rodriguez - Bayern Munich - €13m loan fee

Despite limited playing time last season, James still managed 11 goals and 13 assists for Madrid, before the €80m midfielder was loaned to Bayern last summer to rejoin former coach Carlo Ancelotti.

The Colombia international took a while to settle at Bayern, but has impressed under new coach Jupp Heynckes. In the last two Bundesliga games he scored in a 2-0 win over Leipzig, then provided two assists in Saturday's 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund.

"James is an imaginative footballer," Heynckes said. "But I'm a coach who demands more and we will keep working with him."

Mariano Diaz - Lyon - €8m

Way down the pecking order at Madrid last season, Mariano got just 114 minutes in La Liga, even after a vital goal in a late comeback win over Deportivo La Coruna.

The Dominican Republic international has hit the ground running in France. Sunday's strike against local rivals Saint Etienne was his ninth in his first 12 Ligue 1 games -- the best start by a new player at Lyon in more than 40 years.

"I asked Zidane for advice last summer, and he said it was better to go," Mariano said last week. "If he had told me to stay, for sure I would have stayed."

Danilo - Manchester City - €30m

Not always the most popular of players among Madrid fans and pundits, the versatile Brazilian played 25 times in total during 2016-17, filling in at both right-back and left-back when required.

Danilo is also a back-up at City but last Wednesday, as Madrid were being swamped at Wembley, he played the full 90 minutes as Pep Guardiola's in-form side won 4-2 at Napoli.

"The truth is I miss Real Madrid," Danilo admitted last week. "I had two incredible years there winning big things."

Fabio Coentrao - Sporting Lisbon - loan

Another who had fallen well down the Bernabeu pecking order, Coentrao's loan move to Sporting Lisbon last summer was notable mostly for how it annoyed supporters of his former club Benfica.

After four injury-hit seasons had almost totally derailed his career, Coentrao, still just 29, has at least played regularly. He has already 11 starts in all competitions for his new club, who currently sit second in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, a point ahead of their city rivals.

"Even Real Madrid congratulated us on getting Fabio to play three games in a row," joked Sporting coach Jorge Jesus.

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan


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