Real Madrid's 2023-24 Season So Far
Real Madrid players Éder Militão and Thibaut Courtois (left to right) - image obtained via The Athletic

Real Madrid’s mindset going into every single season is always the same: This is our season to win. I say that taking into consideration the local competitions including the La Liga and Copa Del Rey, among others, as well as the European competitions, which for Madrid is the UEFA Champions League. Real Madrid’s history, both distant and recent, portray their capabilities of winning trophies relentlessly, season in, and season out. It is safe to say that the entire football community acknowledges Madrid’s intimidating presence in any competition, on any given day. Florentino Perez and Real Madrid have completed a seemingly effortless rebuild from the unbelievable UCL three-peat squad and the Cristiano era, to one that is being led in a very veteran and experienced fashion by the likes of youngsters Vinicius Jr, Fede Valverde, Rodrygo Goes, and the newest star addition of Jude Bellingham, amongst many other talents. This rebuild was conducted so perfectly, that the club did not even undergo a prolonged period of struggle or underperforming.

In fact, Madrid was back to lift the UCL trophy–which is widely accepted to be the most prestigious competition at the club level–just four short years after their last UCL title season with the likes of CR7, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, the midfield duo of Modrić and Kroos, and many other club legends in 2018. Real Madrid have also been crowned champions of the Spanish La Liga, in two of the last four years, and are on pace to close out this season with another La Liga title.

Real Madrid players celebrating a goal - image obtained via Diario AS
Real Madrid players celebrating a goal - image obtained via Diario AS

This Season's Ugly Start

This brings us to discussing the 2023-24 season, which is currently underway. In August of 2023, only a few days before the La Liga season kicked off, Real Madrid and its fanbase suffered a huge blow to the team, in a position that they had no depth and no contingency plan in. It was announced on August 10th that starting goalkeeper and superstar player Thibaut Courtois had suffered an ACL tear in his left knee, and that he would be out for the majority of, if not the entirety of the season. This was a massive loss for Real Madrid, who Courtois led to victory just two years prior with a historic UCL final performance vs Liverpool.

This was even more of a loss when considering that Real Madrid only had one other goalkeeper available on the squad roster, that goalkeeper being Andriy Lunin. Despite Lunin’s glimpses of talent and reliability, he does not compare to Courtois, especially given his limited experience playing at the top level as a starter. Following the unfortunate news, Madrid also went on to sign goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to a one year loan deal, in order to have two available goalkeepers registered for the season. 

Thibaut Courtois ACL injury - image obtained via MARCA
Thibaut Courtois' ACL injury - image obtained via MARCA

After bearing this news, Madrid’s community already felt quite deflated, as such a significant loss right before the start of a new season is a hapless situation to endure and come to accept. Unfortunately for the Madridistas, this nightmare story did not end there. On August 12th, Real Madrid cruised to a 2-0 victory on their La Liga opening night matchup vs the Athletic Club de Bilbao. Despite the win, Madrid fans walked away from the contest feeling extremely bitter.

This is due to the fact that early in the second half of the game, star center back Éder Militão, who is the anchor of Madrid’s defensive line, went down with a knee injury of his own. After tests were carried out it was officially announced that Militão had suffered the same injury as his teammate Thibaut, that being an ACL tear in his left knee. Within a three day span at the very start of the season, Real Madrid had already lost their two most important defensive starters to injuries that were predicted to likely see them out for the majority of the season. Militão’s injury left Madrid with only three center backs available on their roster, those being Nacho, Rudiger, and Alaba (the latter of which also tore his ACL during another game this season). This was deemed an extremely difficult situation for manager Carlo Ancelotti to manage, as he only had one backup center back going into every matchup on a weekly basis.

Éder Militão ACL injury - image obtained via ESPN
Éder Militão's ACL injury - image obtained via ESPN

How Did Los Blancos Handle This Early Struggle?

Looking back at the situation from today’s perspective, it is amazing to see what Ancelotti and the rest of the roster has managed to do so far this season given the unfortunate circumstances they had found themselves facing to start the campaign. This is especially true given that the squad’s injury issues continued to pile up throughout the season. Ancelotti has started lineups with midfielders such as Aurélien Tchouaméni playing at center back or Eduardo Camavinga playing games at left back, and other lineups with back-lines filled with three to four fullbacks.

The versatility of Madrid’s squad and rotation is the main driver for the success they are currently experiencing, despite their extensive injury list and the departure of their Ballon d’Or winning striker Karim Benzema (whose role has not been directly replaced yet). We are witnessing Madrid’s young talents mature, and it is very evident and therefore safe to assume that within the next few years, they may all have entered superstar status. 

Real Madrid's Current Standing

Madrid currently sit atop the La Liga table with 72 points, after having played 29 of their 38 La Liga games for the season. This point total has been accumulated through a record of 22 wins, 6 draws, and only one loss which took place back on September 24th of 2023. Madrid have not lost a game in the La Liga in over five months, and this run of good form is unbelievably impressive considering the multitude of different obstacles they faced that we have discussed today. Recently, Madridistas were given some good news to enjoy; Ancelotti announced that both Thibaut Courtois and Éder Militão would be returning to the squad roster after the upcoming FIFA international break, which takes place from the 18th to the 26th of March.

Despite there being no real certainty regarding whether or not the two stars will be returning to the starting lineup or to playing significant game time just yet, it is a great sign to see that they will be training with the squad regularly again. Depending on how Madrid’s next few games in the league go, and how the first leg of their UCL Quarter Finals matchup vs Manchester City goes, we could see Ancelotti turning to the returning players to resume playing a larger role, as they used to prior to their injuries. I would assume that Ancelotti will avoid rushing them back too soon though, given the severity of the injuries they suffered. Their presence with the squad, even if not in the starting lineup, will be felt immensely. Courtois’ lengthy resume of accomplishments and top-level experience, paired with Militão’s fresher legs and extensive experience at the top level given his age, will provide a lot of added value to the locker room and the squad’s confidence levels.

If there is one thing I have learned throughout my life as a Real Madrid fan, it is that you should never count us out of anything, regardless of the obstacles or conditions being endured. Madrid’s current position in their competitions is worthy of celebration for many reasons, but the season is still active and anything can happen in football. I trust that Ancelotti’s decorated resume and experience as a manager, alongside the positive environment within which Madrid players are currently flourishing, will allow the club and its fans to continue to experience success during the most crucial weeks of the season, which are very soon to come.