Mbappe’s Real Madrid transfer – what it means for Vincius Jr, Bellingham and Rodrygo


This is one of those good problems to have.

Kylian Mbappe’s transfer to Real Madrid is done and dusted — at long last. Now they have to fit him into a squad that has just won La Liga and the Champions League.

As reported by The Athletic, Madrid’s coaching staff have known about his arrival since February. As you might expect, the view among Carlo Ancelotti’s team was that Mbappe simply had to be signed.

But that still leaves them with some tough decisions to make — decisions that will perhaps upset what seems to be a perfect balance, especially in attack.

Ancelotti’s favoured setup this term has had room for just two recognised forwards, as well as the box-crashing Jude Bellingham, and Mbappe isn’t the only striker coming in.

Madrid will also have Brazilian wonderkid Endrick to count on. He will join up with the squad after the Copa America, by which point he will have turned 18. Then there’s also Joselu, Arda Guler and Brahim Diaz to consider.

So what does the future hold for Madrid’s attacking players? And how might Ancelotti rebalance his winning formula?


Jude Bellingham

Bellingham was given a more offensive role than most anticipated after joining from Borussia Dortmund last summer. He took to this brilliantly, carrying the team over the first half of the season and ending the campaign as their second-top scorer with 23 goals (Vinicius Junior scored 24) in all competitions.

“I think I’m at my best when I have freedom on the pitch,” Bellingham said last week. “When I play as a No 10, I have the freedom to kind of go everywhere, which means I can go deeper, I can create and I can go higher.”

That new freedom under Ancelotti also gave him licence to make this kind of run — between the forwards.

We most often saw that when Madrid played their hybrid 4-4-2 system. It featured a box midfield when the team was out of possession, with Bellingham given the liberty to attack when they had the ball. If Ancelotti continues with that, Mbappe would come in for Rodyrgo to partner Vinicius Jr up front, with Bellingham’s role unlikely to change too much.

“The closer we get him to goal, the better for us,” Carlo Ancelotti said of the Englishman after the final La Liga game of the season, at home to Real Betis.

But if/when Ancelotti fields all three of Mbappe, Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo, the expectation would be for Bellingham’s role to evolve back towards something like his old position at Dortmund, closer to central midfield. He might end up losing some of that “freedom” when Ancelotti feels the need to increase his defensive duties, but there could be an opportunity to develop his passing range and playmaking skills from deep given the retiring Toni Kroos will no longer play the ‘organiser’ role in midfield.

Vinicius Junior

This has been Vinicius Jr’s highest-scoring season at Madrid, with 24 goals from 39 games (he played 17 fewer matches this term after suffering the first two muscular injuries of his career early in the campaign).

On the surface at least, Madrid’s top scorer might look like the most under threat by Mbappe’s arrival, as both have tended to favour the left side of the attack.

However, Vinicius Jr has at times been redeployed more centrally this term — and to great effect. And so has Mbappe at Paris Saint-Germain.

“At first, I wasn’t convinced but now I’m very happy to be able to play there,” Vinicius Jr said last week. “He (Ancelotti) always told me that I was going to score more goals, I didn’t believe him and in the end, things have worked out well.”

“Now it’s a bit more difficult for him to play on the left,” Ancelotti joked in a recent interview on Spanish TV station La Sexta.

There shouldn’t be too many worries about Vinicius Jr’s minutes next term. As we’ve already seen, if the hybrid 4-4-2 setup continues, he and Mbappe could play together up top, with Rodrygo dropping to the bench. He is in the form of his life… Ballon d’Or form.

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If Ancelotti were to favour three strikers, Vinicius Jr could play on his favoured left flank or down the middle. He has very seldom appeared on the right flank and has not since 2021.

Rodrygo has shown the most flexibility of Ancelotti’s forwards, playing on both flanks and centrally, but he does look like the most likely to miss out when only two attackers are required.

Rodrygo

Rodrygo ended this season with 17 goals from 51 appearances in all competitions — Madrid’s joint-third-highest scorer of the campaign. His highlight came in the Champions League semi-final against Manchester City. Across both legs he played off the left, scoring two goals across the tie and often helping unbalance Pep Guardiola’s defence.

But even before Mbappe’s arrival was confirmed, Rodrygo’s future at Madrid became a big talking point.

In interviews last week, he left the door open to leaving Madrid. He later claimed his words were “taken out of context” when posting a social media clarification that reaffirmed his commitment to the club.

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Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr celebrate at Wembley (Pedro Castillo/Real Madrid via Getty Images)

Rodyrgo is widely considered the player likely to be the main casualty of Mbappe’s signing, something that is not easy to accept for a player who has become a regular starter at Madrid — only Federico Valverde and Antonio Rudiger have played more than his 3,706 minutes this season.

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GO DEEPER

The full inside story of Kylian Mbappe’s Real Madrid transfer

But it has been a tough campaign for Rodrygo. He has played in several positions and has struggled for consistency. He was frank about his problems with playing as a No 9 in Ancelotti’s hybrid 4-4-2 in an interview with radio station COPE in November.

“With my characteristics, it doesn’t suit me very well,” he said. “I like to touch the ball a lot and I can’t play as much as a No 9.”

It is unlikely Rodrygo would be given too many minutes playing as a central striker next term ahead of Vinicius Jr and Mbappe, who have both shown they can play there. Joselu is also expected to stay at Madrid next season, as the club have decided to take up the option to make his loan from Espanyol permanent for around €1.5million (£1.3m; $1.6m).

However, should Ancelotti choose to play with three forwards, it would make sense for Rodrygo to continue on the right flank.

Perhaps the most telling line from Rodrygo’s media rounds last week was this: “From the moment I see that I’m no longer important, maybe it’s time to look for another place, but I think that’s not what’s happening at the moment, nor am I thinking about it.

For the moment, his camp insists he wants to be part of the “great project” planned for next season and he is under contract until 2028. But during Florentino Perez’s presidency, Madrid have often shown ruthlessness in selling players who were seen as dispensable, whether they like it or not, with Angel Di Maria (2014) and Mesut Ozil (2013) among those who were persuaded to accept exits when big offers came in from Premier League clubs.

Endrick

Madrid announced their €35million deal to sign Endrick from Palmerias back in December 2022 when the Brazilian forward was 16, but FIFA regulations mean he can only join Madrid after turning 18. The deal also included a further €25million in possible variables, at least €7.5m of which has already been triggered. His star is on the rise.

Endrick impressed in friendlies against Spain and England earlier this year and was crucial to Palmeiras winning a second consecutive league title in 2023. He has mostly played as a central striker in his 82 senior appearances for the Brazilian side, but he has also been deployed on either attacking flank.

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Endrick celebrates with Vinicius Jr after scoring against England (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It’s fair to say Endrick won’t be pushing Mbappe for a starting place, but how will he figure into Ancelotti’s plans?

The case of Vinicius Jr, who followed a similar path, might provide an interesting clue. He, too, signed for Madrid at a young age and had to wait until turning 18 before joining. When he did arrive at the Bernabeu, he started out at Real Madrid Castilla, the club’s reserve side, much to Perez’s discontent.

 

When Madrid’s president reappointed Ancelotti as manager in 2021, the Italian made clear he had confidence in Vinicius Jr and that the young winger would be key to his project. Vinicius Jr has responded to that confidence and affection — as shown by how they embraced each other after his goal against Dortmund in Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley.

Endrick will not start at Castilla. The smart money would be on him being used sparingly but wisely in what will be his debut Madrid campaign. Much like Arda Guler has been.

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Arda Guler

“You see Guler and he’s a kid,” said Ancelotti in his La Sexta interview. It is a phrase that has been repeated many times this season at Valdebebas when referring to the Turkish 19-year-old. That does not mean they do not trust in his growth.

Next season it is expected that Guler will stay with the first team rather than going out on loan, but it would be fair to assume Mbappe’s arrival will only limit his opportunities for regular football.

Guler’s debut campaign was disrupted by various injuries and in total he played only 440 minutes, though he still managed to score six times and almost got the goal of the season in a La Liga game at Osasuna. Ancelotti often faced calls to play him more — and at times Guler became frustrated — but the dynamic seems to be positive now.

Competition is set to multiply up front. One thing in Guler’s favour, however, is his tendency to start on the right wing, where options are more limited. It also should be noted that Madrid’s season will be long (and Endrick should take note of this, too).

Next term, Ancelotti’s side will compete in La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Supercopa de Espana, the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Intercontinental Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. There should be time for everyone to shine.

Brahim Diaz

Brahim had some standout moments this season — most notably when scoring a delightful winning goal in the Champions League last-16 first leg at RB Leipzig. He even established himself as Ancelotti’s preferred replacement when Bellingham was out through injury or suspension.

In total he played 2,064 minutes this term — the 15th-most used player — across 44 appearances, scoring 12 goals. Madrid believe the Morocco international has developed well this term. The player will hope he continues to get chances and the club will hope his consistency when called upon continues to impress.

With Mbappe and Endrick arriving, opportunities might well be more limited, but Brahim’s versatility should count in his favour.

Joselu

He was the unlikely hero who sent Madrid through to the Champions League final with two late goals in the second leg of their semi-final against Bayern Munich — and now he is set to stay.

The season has had its ups and downs — in a home group stage game against Napoli, he missed a hatful of chances before finally finding the net and apologising to fans — but Joselu has written his own special entry into the history of a club he first joined 15 years ago.

Madrid have now decided to make his loan from Espanyol permanent and the 34-year-old might well expect to have a similar role next term to this. When the team needs a slightly different and more physical profile up front, he can provide it.

But Joselu is arguably the least versatile of the players mentioned here and the two players coming in — Mbappe and Endrick — can both play at centre-forward.

If Endrick starts at the kind of pace recent evidence suggests he will, Joselu might well fall down the pecking order. But there should still be chances for him to make an impact from the bench in easier La Liga games or the Copa del Rey.

Additional reporting: Dermot Corrigan

(Top photo: Getty Images)





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