The season so far
The season so far has been fantastic so to speak. Starting in an extremely positive manner, with an undefeated pre-season campaign and a confidence boosting stalemate against Barça, this season has all the indications of becoming the special second season that the special one enjoys no matter which club he manages. Even though a rejuvenated Karim Benzema is the highlight of the season so far, we must also grace the fact that the team seems to be in a much better shape (if that’s even possible) than it was last season.
José has made five new additions to the squad that he had at his disposal a year ago by acquiring the signatures of Nuri Sahin, Hamit Altintop, former Castilla player José Callejon, Raphäel Varane and last but not the least Fábio Coentrão with the latter coming at 30 million Euros from Benfica. Pepe and Sergio Ramos signed five year deals keeping them at the club till 2016 and 2017 respectively. Zidane took over from Valdano as the Director of Football. Garay, Adebayor, Drenthe, Pedro León, Lass and Gago were seen as excess baggage by the newly appointed Sporting Manager of Football, José Mourinho. Garay left to Benfica, Adebayor went back to Manchester City. Mateos and Canales were loaned out to Zaragoza and Valencia respectively. Jerzy Dudek too is no longer a part of the first team following his retirement from football at the end of last season. Mourinho’s new designation saw him gain complete authority over who comes and who goes from the squad following Jorge Valdano’s departure last season. Mourinho’s authority extended over affairs of the youth team as well with the highly talented Pablo Sarabia loaned out to our neighbors Getafe in order to gain exposure to La Liga. Jesé, Joselu, Jesus, Nacho, Casado, Tomas Mejias all accompanied the first team players throughout the pre-season campaign and Antonio Adan as promoted to the first team where he will serve as St.Iker’s deputy. Notable absentees from Castilla were Morata and Sarabia who both were out representing Spain in the UEFA U-19 European Championship. They both made significant contributions to the side, with Sarabia captaining it and Morata being the top scorer of the tournament, and thus helping Spain regain the trophy that they had lost to France last year. Sahin and Altintop though were injured throughout the pre-season and still are and thus have to wait till they make their bow for us Blancos.
José Mourinho’s second season at Real Madrid, following a victorious Copa Del Rey campaign and a relatively less successful La Liga and Champions League campaigns, kicked off in style in the city of Los Angeles just like last season. The Whites would play the World Football Challenge which included games against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy, the Mexican side Chivas Guadalajara and Philadelphia Union before leaving the US of A. Following that would be trips to Germany, England and as far as China before returning to Spain for the Supercopa clash against our dearest Catalan rivals – FC Barcelona – in a two legged affair. Also, Galatasaray had agreed to play this year’s edition of the Santiago Bernabeu trophy.
The first game of the pre-season was against the Lost Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center and like last season we emerged victorious with an even better result compared to the 3-2 win a year ago. A goal from the debutant Callejón, Castilla’s Joselu, the ever-scoring Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema made Galaxy’s only goal just a consolation, thereby sealing a 4-1 victory. Callejón, Coentrão and of course Benzema all impressed in a game that saw Real dominate their opponent as expected. The French striker had finally started impressing the manager with the boss himself saying that Benzema was finally the striker he wants him to be. Followed by that good showing was a game against the Mexican side Guadalajara that saw our best player show us and the Mexicans why he is what he is. Cristiano Ronaldo scored a magnificent second half hat-trick to help Real notch its second win in as many games in the pre-season. Real Madrid 3 Chivas 0 read the final score. The final game on American soil would be the toughest. Real struggled to beat Philadelphia Union 2-1 thanks to early goals from Ozil and Callejon in the first half. Ultimately, Real Madrid topped the table of the World Football Challenge on goal difference. A win is a win they say.
Real then returned to Spain only to leave to Berlin, Germany where they would play Hertha in what would be yet another friendly. Despite going down to the home team by a goal a Karim Benzema inspired Real came out victors 3-1. The best goal of the game came from a trademark Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick. Benzema’s performance though was the biggest gain for us considering the fact that the first team has only two #9s in the side.
Next up was a game against Sven Goran Erikkson’s Leicester City, a game that apparently won us 1.5 million euros. The English crowd was as hostile as ever and, I better get used to saying this, yet again it was Karim Benzema who saved us the blushes with a goal and an assist to overcome them in a hard fought 2-1 win. Higuain was back for the game and Di Maria would join us in our trip to Asia.
China was our next destination. Guangzhou Evergrande and Tianjin Teda were our respective opponents in the two friendlies that the Whites would play there. Generally teams have known to struggle against Asian opponents on Asian soil as the conditions were hard and the opponents are perfectly used to playing in such surfaces and climates. But that was not the case here as the games turned out to be cakewalks. The former lost 7-1 whereas the latter lost by the same margin except that they couldn’t beat our defense with the game ending 6-0 and the pre-season ending in emphatic fashion. Los Blancos would return to Madrid to get the new season up and running.
Transfer speculations are never too far off from Real Madrid and this window was no different. Real were linked with several top strikers in the world none more so than Kun Agüero who had announced that he would leave Atletico for better football and a better future. Adebayor too was touted to return on a permanent deal with the special one himself admitting that a deal was possible. But Mourinho was quick to quash all rumors as soon as he was sure that Benzema would carry the burden of the striker role along with the ever-reliable Pipita. Real had bought all their signings very early in order to get things set by the time pre-season had started. Apparently, Mourinho wanted two quality players for every position on the field and once that was accomplished all that Florentino Perez had to do was close his cheque book. Gago, Lass and Pedro León are yet to be sold or sent out on loan.
I personally thought we would go on to buy a striker but then again with Benzema, Higuaín, Ronaldo and Callejón we have enough goals from the first team alone part from the ones that the likes of Jesé, Joselu and Morata could provide. I will not say that I am entirely happy with the composition of the squad. We do seem to be a quality striker shy of a great squad, but its Mourinho who calls the shots. If he is happy, then I am happy. I am happy.
Supercopa – first leg
And then the season started. What better way to get started than getting a go at a couple of Clasicós one would say but then I do not agree and Mourinho doesn’t either. The intensity of a clasicó is too much to have right at the beginning of the season when players are just getting ready to play and might be vulnerable to a niggle. But what has to happen, has to happen. The first game of the season actual, was the first leg against Barça at the Bernabéu against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. It was the fifth clasicó of 2011 with the teams sharing a couple of draws and a win apiece. Real Madrid played their strongest line up with Casillas between the sticks, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho and Marcelo playing at the back behind Alonso and Khedira. The front four consisted of Ronaldo, Ozil, Di Maria and Karim Benzema. Barça were without the services of Puyol while Pique, Busquets, Pedro and Xavi were relegated to the bench. €26 million signing Aléxis Sanchéz won a place in the starting line up along with Messi and Villa. New sensation Thiago Alcantâra along with Iniesta and Keita made up the midfield while Alves, Mascherano, Abidal, Adriano and Valdés made up the rest of the line up. Özil opened the scoring for us in a half that saw us dominate Barça more than any other team has done in the past three years. Signs were good for us when Barça leveled through an extraordinary goal from David Villa which would have defeated any goalkeeper in the world. Barça’s luck continued when Messi made the best out of Khedira’s unlucky touch which led to a 2-1 scoreline in favor of Barça at the stroke of half-time. This didn’t deter us and we came out as strong as we had done in the first half and continued to dominate the game and we deservedly pegged back level when Xabi Alonso’s drive from the edge of the box beat Valdés after fifty three minutes. Guardiola was made to make changes with both Pique and Xavi coming in despite not being completely fit. Benzema, yet again, proved inspirational by not only setting up Özil for the first goal and but also by keeping a check on Barça’s defense continuously throughout the game. The scoreline does not reflect the way the game was played and Real have a lot of work to do still as we travel to Camp Nou for the second leg. All signs indicate a positive result for Real but with Clásicós you never know.
Until next time,
Para Siempre Blanco!