A quick summer after breaking several Spanish La Liga records, including total points (100) and goals scored (121), Real Madrid heads into a fresh season. The goal for Jose Mourinho's charges? Steady improvement.
"We're aspiring to take another step just like the last few seasons since Mourinho has been here," captain Iker Casillas said. "At the beginning of this year we want to keep on consolidating the team."
By all accounts, Los Blancos are consolidating well. They torched the LA Galaxy and AC Milan by identical 5-1 scorelines and sweated out a 2-1 win over Mexican champion Santos Laguna in between. Now the onus is on Madrid to keep at bay a Barcelona that won three titles in a row prior to last season.
"I think we've taken a giant step forward, a large step to compete against a Barcelona that had a very good season," Casillas said through a translator. "We won a very difficult league. I believe this year we will do the same."
Real Madrid also made it to the semifinals of the Champions League, losing out on penalties to Bayern Munich. The club's next Champions League trophy would be a record-setting 10th, la decima.
"It's not an obsession, the decima," the 31-year-old goalkeeper said. But he does see Ole Big Ears as a very real possibility. "For me, the team that we have, the players that we have, the public, the field, the trainer that we have, this team is a European contender."
Thus far, Mourinho hasn't added to his side. Rumors continue to swirl around the possibility of Luka Modric joining from Tottenham, but thus far, relatively the same team that won La Liga has toured the United States. Even Nuri Sahin and Kaka are still around earning preseason minutes with the league season a little over a week away.
"Last year we won the league, practically with the same players we have here," Pepe said in Spanish.
Rather than banking on a big-money signing, Mourinho expects his third season to foster deeper understandings among his players.
"We know each other much, much better in human terms but also footballistically," he said. "We have conditions to have again a very good season."
In the offseason, Barca promoted Tito Vilanova to head coach after Pep Guardiola departed to take a sabbatical. The Galacticos know they have to maintain their hunger to prevent a Catalan resurgence.
"We have that same desire in every training," Pepe said. "We're showing and we believe that we're working very well. The team is picking up a pretty high level. We're ready to start the new season."
Casillas, who also won Euro 2012 this summer with Spain, has seen his motivation to thrive change as he matures. Now his drive is more altruistic.
"It's because of the fans," he said. "Once you've won, you start thinking a little less about yourself and more about the people – that they can enjoy, that they can get the same light that I have with a lot of titles."
If Real Madrid can continue its steady improvement under Mourinho, fans should see plenty of that same light in the year to come.
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