The curtain raises on the Spanish season with a mouth-watering clash in the capital...
Kick-off: Saturday, August 29, 2009, 20:00 CET
Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain.
Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain.
After what has been one of the most exciting summers in Real Madrid’s recent history, Los Blancos finally take to the Santiago Bernabeu pitch for their first official match of the season: the Liga opener against Galician rivals Deportivo La Coruna.
With president Florentino Perez now in charge leading a new regime that has well and truly broken with that of the Ramon Calderon era, the Madrid that will take the pitch in the first match of La Liga’s opening weekend will differ substantially from the side that walked off the pitch at the end of last season.
Gone are Michel Salgado (Blackburn), Gabriel Heinze (Marseille), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Milan), Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Julian Faubert (sent back from being on loan from West Ham), Dani Parejo (Getafe), Javi Garcia (Benfica), Javier Saviola (Benfica), Jordi Codina (Getafe), Alberto Bueno (Valladolid), Wesley Sneijder (Inter) and most recently, not to say very surprisingly and much to the chagrin of many a Madridista, Arjen Robben, who seems destined to sign for Bayern Munich.
Furthermore, the promising Alvaro Negredo, who had been recalled from Almeria via a buyback clause in his contract, was sent to Sevilla to mature for another year; Sevilla were quick to tag the looming striker with an €80 million buyout clause, but Los Blancos will surely count on the services of ‘El Tiburon de Vallecas’— 'The Shark of Vallecas' - in years to come and exercise their buyback clause next summer for pesetas on the euro.
Into the Merengue squad comes a very expensive group of star players: Kaka (€65 million); Cristiano Ronaldo (€96m), Raul Albiol (€15m), Karim Benzema (€35m), Esteban Granero (€4m), Alvaro Arbeloa (€4m), and Xabi Alonso (€30m) — a whopping €249m in summer expenditures! In addition, central defender Ezequiel Garay was recalled from his loan spell with Racing Santander to reinforce the central defence. To head the new Galactico era dubbed the ‘Floren Team’? Villarreal’s managerial mastermind, 'El Ingeniero' — 'the Engineer' (both by trade and reputation) - Manuel Pellegrini.
It seems that, at least so far, money does in fact buy happiness. In just one summer of astonishing spending, Florentino Perez has turned Madrid around — adding some of the very best talents in the sport to create a Madrid that has begun to dazzle spectators. Four of Madrid’s last five pre-season matches have seen Los Blancos keep clean sheets, demonstrating sound defensive play, while the attack has scored an average of 2.45 goals per match.
Madridistas are once again excited about their team, as was evidenced by an enamoured Bernabeu during Madrid’s 4-0 dispatching of Norwegian side Rosenborg in Monday’s Trofeo Santiago Bernabeu friendly match. With the Champions League final to be played in the Bernabeu this spring, the Spanish capital will have very high hopes for its beloved club. The Liga opener will be a very good opportunity to start off on the right foot.
Unwelcome Guests from Galicia
Visiting the Spanish capital from the former Galician capital come Deportivo La Coruna, a bogey side for Real Madrid and one that finished a very respectable seventh place in La Liga last season. Headed by Basque coach Miguel Angel Lotina, Deportivo are a dangerous side, one that bested Madrid last season in the Riazor to open the Liga season.
Featuring such talents as Mexican international Andres Guardado, who at times last season could easily have been the best left-sided player in Spain, and left-back Filipe Luis, who was heavily pursued by Barcelona this summer before Deportivo’s asking price caused the deal to fall through and the Blaugrana to turn to Inter’s Maxwell instead, it is possible that Deportivo have gotten even stronger this off-season as a number of players return to complete a team that was already playing at a very high level last year.
Deportivo have, for reasons not entirely known, historically been a very difficult side for Madrid to handle, with Los Blancos having been unable to beat the Galicians in the Riazor for the past 18 years running. This year, the first match is at the Bernabeu, where the Merengues have had slightly better luck, but this is no ordinary Madrid team and to expect the Floren Team to keep with recent tradition would be to sell a €249m squad short.
07/08/2009 Pre-season Toronto-Real Madrid 1-5
09/08/2009 Pre-season D. C. United-Real Madrid 0-3
15/08/2009 Pre-season Real Sociedad-Real Madrid 0-2
19/08/2009 Pre-season Borussia Dortmund-Real Madrid 0-5
25/08/2009 Pre-season Real Madrid-Rosenborg 4-0
Deportivo La Coruna
08/08/2009 Pre-season Leixoes - Deportivo 0-0
12/08/2009 Pre-season Deportivo-Atletico 1-1
13/08/2009 Pre-season Cadiz - Deportivo 1-3
15/08/2009 Pre-season Sevilla - Deportivo 1-0
23/08/2009 Pre-season Osasuna - Deportivo 4-2
The imminent sale of Arjen Robben has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Madridistas as large number of fans now view Los Blancos as going from a 'Super squad' to only a 'Super starting XI'. Manuel Pellegrini will be very keen to show that his side has more than enough capable players to handle the load, and he will be able to count on nearly all of his players for the match against Deportivo. The absences are significant though, as Sergio Ramos will miss the match having failed to train since his Confederations Cup exploits with Spain because of tendonitis in his left leg. Pepe is also out, serving out the rest of the ten-match suspension he was issued last season for a violent outburst in a match against Getafe.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-2-2): Casillas; Arbeloa, Albiol, Metzelder, Marcelo; Lass, Xabi Alonso; Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo; Raul, Benzema.
Deportivo La Coruna
In the days leading up the match at the Bernabeu, Miguel Angel Lotina has kept his team training in private, away from the prying eyes of the press. A master tactician, one has to wonder what sort of scheme Lotina is preparing in anticipation of his chess match with Pellegrini. However, the Basque trainer will be unable to count on Antonio Tomas, Adrian Lopez and Lassad Nouioui, who are all out with injuries and will not be able to recover in time for the Madrid match.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Aranzubia; Laure, Ze Castro, Lopo, Filipe; Pablo Alvarez, Juca, Juan Rodriguez, Guardado; Riki, Valeron.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
In such a star-studded squad, it is difficult to pick just one or two players to watch, but the most obvious choices are the three most expensive signings: Kaka; Cristiano Ronaldo; and Karim Benzema. The offensive trio has been simply brilliant in pre-season and give Madrid an attacking edge that has not been seen at the Spanish capital since the days of Figo and Zidane. In the midfield, Xabi Alonso is an excellent conductor of the offence while Lass is always enjoyable to watch as he bulldogs around the pitch hunting down possession. Raul will also be worth keeping an eye on; with all of the stars in the Madrid squad, ‘El Capitan’s’ place in the starting XI has been questioned. With Higuain waiting in the wings, the pressure on the No.7 is much greater this season.
Deportivo La Coruna
Andres Guardado will likely see time on both the left and right flanks, testing the defensive discipline of both Alvaro Arbeloa and Marcelo. After a superb season last year, the Mexican international is really coming into his own and, at only 22-years-old, has immeasurable potential; making a statement against a Real Madrid in the Bernabeu would certainly be a grand way to begin the season. After being pursued by Barcelona for much of the summer, left-back Filipe Luis remains at Deportivo for another season. The Brazilian will be keen to show that the hype surrounding his signature was not unfounded and he should sneak forward to test Casillas with a blistering shot or two.
La Liga’s opening match is sure to be a wildly entertaining affair, if only for the reason that Spanish football is now back in full swing. Real Madrid will hope to open official competition by showcasing their football before their fans, who are anticipating a great season from their idols. While Depor may give Los Blancos some trouble early on and may put a number of players behind the ball in order to give the home side little space within which to work, the talent in this Madrid side should shine through.
Real Madrid 3 – 1 Deportivo La Coruna
Cyrus C. Malek, Goal.com