Real Madrid: Can the defense be the best in Europe again?

Real Madrid had the best defense in Europe’s top five leagues last season in terms of goals allowed, but can that repeat in 2020-2021?

With eyes on blockbuster transfers for Kylian Mbappe and Eduardo Camavinga in the 2021 summer transfer window, Real Madrid have kept quiet in this year’s market. They had a successful 2019-2020 season domestically, winning La Liga. But they also struggled in the knockout competitions, getting bounced out early in both the Copa del Rey and Champions League.

The hallmark of Real’s success in 2019-2020 was their defense. No team allowed fewer goals in Europe’s top five leagues than Los Blancos, as Real surrendered 25 goals to Atletico Madrid’s 27 goals to top the charts in La Liga.

At the heart of Real’s success was the world-class center back duo of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, and the club had the league’s best goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois behind them. Furthermore, Dani Carvajal was back to his usual world-class self at right back, and left back Ferland Mendy made his presence felt as the team’s most successful 2019 summer signing.

Casemiro buoyed them as the top defensive midfielder in the world. So no matter where you looked, Real Madrid had world-class talent, showing that their statistical dominance defensively was no fluke.

Real Madrid’s biggest strength is their defense

Zinedine Zidane knew his team’s strength was defense, so he built his team around staying organized and defending well. Karim Benzema largely carried the attack, with penalty and set-piece expert Sergio Ramos adding the second-most goals for Real in La Liga.

Next season, Real should have a better attack with a fully healthy Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio, a more experienced Rodrygo Goes and Vinicius Junior, and a new standout youngster in Martin Odegaard.

And defensively, they should be just as good, if not better. Ramos, Varane, Courtois, and Carvajal showed no signs of slowing down last season. Out of those four stars, Ramos is the only player outside of his prime, but the man closing in on 35 years seems to have the most engine out of all of them.

Mendy will only get better in his second season with Real Madrid, and his chemistry with the rest of his team is growing. Behind the starters, Alvaro Odriozola appears ready to add important depth to Carvajal at right back, while Eder Militao has shown that he has the tools to contribute more next season as a future world-class center back.

Liverpool, Bayern Munich, and even Atleti can all lay claim to having world-class defenses. A Juventus back three of Matthijs de Ligt, Giorgio Chiellini, and Leonardo Bonucci (with Merih Demiral thrown in for good measure) could be elite as well.

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But Real Madrid stand firm with the best of them, especially with Casemiro in front of the back four and Courtois behind them. With depth, particularly behind Casemiro, as the only real concern, there’s no reason why Real Madrid cannot replicate their Europe-leading defensive efforts in the 2020-2021 season across all competitions. This group is special.