One down, five to go. Real Madrid kicked off their season in spectacular style after winning the Uefa Super Cup in Cardiff on Tuesday - the first of six competitions lying ahead for Los Blancos in 2014-15. It was the perfect start, but much more will now be expected.
"We have started the season in the best possible way," match-winner Cristiano Ronaldo said after scoring the two goals that gave Madrid their 2-0 win over Sevilla. And he added: "It's a special moment. I hadn't won this cup, but now I have it on my CV."
Roundly ridiculed by Barcelona fans for winning just three titles in his first four seasons at Madrid, Ronaldo has duly doubled that tally since the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti as coach last summer and now the goal will be to add many more to his growing collection as Real prepare for five more competitions this term: the Spanish Supercopa, La Liga, the Club World Cup, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. "Football and competition are in my blood," the Portuguese told Goal after winning the Goal 50 award last month for the finest footballer in 2013-14. "My wish is for Real Madrid to lift all of the trophies possible."
And those thoughts were echoed by club president Florentino Perez on Tuesday night. "What we're truly excited about is the chance to keep on improving," he said. "That's not arrogance - it's the history of Madrid. We want to keep winning titles and we have prepared the new season with that in mind."
|GUARDIOLA'S BARCA (2008 - 2012 )
3 La Liga titles
2 Champions Leagues
2 World Club Cup
2 Copa del Rey
2 Uefa Super Cup
3 Spanish Supercopas
Real claimed the Copa del Rey and the Champions League in 2012-13, but that was with a small squad and the arrivals of James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Keylor Navas this summer - with the possibility of another big signing still to come - mean Madrid are significantly stronger for the new season.
In 2014-15, Madrid could play a maximum of 65 games and to challenge on all fronts Ancelotti asked for more strength in depth this time around. And he has it - even if Angel Di Maria and Sami Khedira end up leaving the club before the end of the transfer window. The German, after all, was missing for much of last season, while James offers as many or perhaps even more alternatives than the Argentine.
The Italian coach is keen to keep both and has said there will be no first-choice XI this term, with rotations made to keep his players fresh, minimise the risk of injuries and ensure the squad is in tip-top shape when the big prizes are handed out at the end of the season.
"It's not easy to improve this team," Ancelotti said after the game on Tuesday. "With all the quality in this squad, I can't have one first-choice XI. We have a fantastic squad and we have to use it. We will need to rotate all of the players to be competitive." And on his hopes for the future with Madrid, the 55-year-old added: "I believe this can be the start of an important cycle."
|ANCELOTTI'S MADRID (2013 - )
1 Champions League
1 Copa del Rey
1 Uefa Super Cup
*Still to play for in 2014-15: Spanish Supercopa, La Liga, Copa del Rey, Club World Cup and the Champions League
That's the plan and all of the ingredients are there. Ancelotti is a top-level coach with a remarkable record at all of his clubs, while Tuesday's team (at a total cost of over €450 million) is the most expensive XI ever assembled and is brimming with world-class talent.
Tougher tests than Sevilla await, starting with Atletico in the Spanish Supercopa next week, when Ancelotti will be less likely to start with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the double pivot as he seeks stability and solidity as well as creativity in his midfield. With so many top players at his disposal, the Italian will need to find the right balance over the course of the season and, like last term, he may need to tweak the formation as well in order to get the best out of his squad.
Atletico have moved well in the transfer market to replace the likes or Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis, and Diego Simeone's side will be competitive again this term, while Barcelona will be boosted by the arrivals of Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic as they begin an exciting new project under Luis Enrique.
But Madrid look like the team to beat at home and in Europe in 2014-15 and the opportunity is there for Ancelotti's side to go on and define an era - just like Barca did under Pep Guardiola between 2008 and 2012.
"Madrid have signed intelligently and we have added top-quality players that were needed," Sergio Ramos said on Tuesday. "It's a great way to start." And team-mate Dani Carvajal added: "This will give us a lot of confidence. Now we'll go after the rest of the titles."
One down, five to go.
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