La Décima – two words which will forever define the 2013/14 season in the eyes of Real Madrid Club de Fútbol. Carlo Ancelotti and his band of Galácticos last season achieved what no other Real Madrid side since 2002 had – reclaim the UEFA Champions League. It was a historic season for Los Merengues as they also captured the Copa Del Rey in spectacular circumstances with a man-of-the-match performance from new superstar Gareth Bale against their eternal rivals in FC Barcelona.
There is an awful lot more expectation around the club this coming season though as the club aims to go one better and retain the LIGA BBVA crown from their city rivals, Atlético de Madrid. More expectation means more goals are needed, more assists, more clean sheets, more tackles, and President Florentino Pérez has wasted no time in working towards complete domestic and European domination for his beloved club by providing the funds for what could well be signing of the season in young Colombian wonderkid, James Rodriguez from AS Monaco for a groundbreaking fee believed to be around €80 million.
He will follow in the footsteps of some of Real Madrid’s greatest players such as Luis Figo and Ferenc Puskás in wearing the number 10 shirt and playing under the tutelage of his idol, Zinedine Zidane.
Another fantastic transfer coup pulled off by the club was that of World Cup-winning attacking midfielder, Toni Kroos from FC Bayern Munich for around €30 million, who will add a further dimension to the Real Madrid midfield and can help contribute both goals and assists when other players may be lacking.
Perhaps less significantly, Costa Rican World Cup goalkeeper Keylor Navas has also joined the club and will rotate with captain and club legend Iker Casillas and Diego Lopez – however the goalkeeping situation may change within the coming weeks as we approach the end of the transfer window as it is simply impractical to be able to fully rotate three different goalkeepers – could this spell the end for Spain’s legendary goalkeeper?
As for any other potential incoming transfers, world class Colombian forward Radamel Falcao has been heavily mooted with a return to Spain from Monaco to link up once again with James Rodriguez, and this could well be a possibility in the lead up to the end of the transfer window with him rotating with Karim Benzema.
Departures from the club this summer thus far include Nuri Sahin to Borussia Dortmund on a permanent deal, having spent the last two seasons there on loan having never settled in Madrid and promising central striker Álvaro Morata, of whom much was expected last season, however, the management at the Santiago Bernabéu have sanctioned the move following the player’s wish for more first-team football, with him moving to Juventus. There could be further activity in departures, with Ángel Di María apparently falling out of favour due to the new arrivals in the attacking midfield department and the aforementioned goalkeeping overload.
As well as the large household names amongst the Real Madrid ranks there are young players who will be expected to have breakthrough seasons and announce themselves to the biggest stage. Young playmaker Isco had an up and down season previously and will be wanting to put behind him any niggling injuries so that he can fully establish himself amongst the bigger names.
Young French central defender Raphaël Varane also needs a good season, carrying on from playing regularly in the World Cup and I am tipping him to come into his own this season, possibly displacing the temperamental Pepe from the team. Real supposedly have shirked interest from Chelsea and his former manager José Mourinho as they hold him in such high regard. He has the air of a future captain about him and has technical and physical skill in abundance – his reading of the game and decision-making will only increase with age.
Home-grown prodigy, Jesé Rodriguez, also needs to show what he can do with the chances he gets as he has been hotly tipped to replace Cristiano Ronaldo once he begins to show a decline in form (if ever). He is a boisterous, fledgling flair player with lots still to prove and if given enough time on the pitch he surely will blossom into a fantastic little player – though easier said than done, with Real Madrid always being lambasted for letting their youth prospects leave too early – see Álvaro Morata, Juan Mata and Roberto Soldado of recent times.
Real Madrid are very much in a position now to capitalise on last season’s success with far more fire power, matching that of their title rivals Barcelona, who have added Luis Suárez to their already potent attacking options. They have a stability now in terms of coaching staff and tactical philosophy which has been in place for a season now, bringing in silverware.
I do not expect Barcelona to be anywhere near as bad as they were towards the end of 2013/14, but I simply can not see past this very strong, slick, goal-strewn Real Madrid. When you have the option of picking Ballon D’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo alongside Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo et al then you can be considered a shoe-in for further silverware.
However, we know that President Florentino Pérez has an infamously short fuse, and should one or two things stop going his way, he definitely will not be afraid of showing Mr. Ancelotti the exit, having dispensed with current Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque in very similar circumstances.
One thing though is for certain, and it is that this season’s LIGA BBVA championship race will be full of goals, incidents, cards, managerial spats and edge of the seat excitement.
My top of the table predictions;
1st Real Madrid C.F.
2nd FC Barcelona
3rd Atlético de Madrid