Real Madrid are still the team to beat in Spain and in Europe

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Winners of La Liga and the Champions League in 2016-17, Los Blancos will be the favourites both at home and in Europe as the new season gets underway


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Real Madrid are enjoying their finest moment in many years. Under Zinedine Zidane, Los Blancos became the first side to win back-to-back Champions League titles and completed a Liga-European Cup double in June that the club had not managed since 1958. And this season, they will be the team to beat once again.

Pre-season for Madrid was a disappointment. Zidane's side failed to win any of their matches on tour in the United States and lost a "friendly" Clasico clash to Barcelona in Miami as part of the International Champions Cup (which was won by the Catalan club).

Real Madrid 5/1 to win the Champions League 

But back in competitive action, Real have already shown that pre-season means very little. Because Madrid already have a trophy to their name in the current campaign, having edged out Manchester United in the UEFA Super Cup in Skopje, and another looks likely to arrive after Los Blancos beat Barcelona in the first leg of the sides' Spanish Supercopa clash at Camp Nou on Sunday night.

While Barca have been weakened by the departure of Neymar and have failed to replace the Brazil forward since his €222 million move to Paris Saint-Germain, Madrid have adjusted an already formidable squad and boast an impressive array of back-up players who would grace the starting XIs of many top teams around Europe.

Real Madrid transfers in graphic

Madrid paid €30m to buy left-back Theo Hernandez from city rivals Atletico after the defender's dynamic displays for Alaves last season. Theo's release clause was actually set at €24m, but Real agreed to pay €6m more in order to stay on good terms with their neighbours.

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Theo will provide back-up for Marcelo and is expected to develop into one of the best left-backs in the world. He should certainly receive his fair share of opportunities as Zidane has shown how he likes to rotate his squad. If necessary, he can even operate as a winger in a 4-4-2 formation and is a free-kick specialist.

The other player to arrive this summer is Dani Ceballos. After starring for Spain's Under-21 side in their European Championship campaign, the midfielder was snapped up for a cut-price €17m (his €15m release clause plus a little more for good will) as Real beat Barca to his signing.

Barcelona wanted Theo and Ceballos, and both would have featured prominently for the Catalan club. But to rub extra salt into the wounds, the two players were unused substitutes for Real Madrid at Camp Nou on Sunday.

Real Madrid transfers out graphic

In the meantime Real are also planning for the future, and a deal was agreed with Flamengo for 17-year-old Brazilian forward Vinicius Jr, whose transfer will be completed after his 18th birthday next year. So, while Barca have just lost Brazil's best current player, Madrid have tied up the nation's next star.

Real beat Barca in Supercopa at Camp Nou

Several players have been sold by Real this summer as well. James Rodriguez left for Bayern Munich on a two-year loan, while Alvaro Morata signed for Chelsea in a €65m deal, Pepe departs on a free transfer to Besiktas and Danilo has moved to Manchester City for €30m. Fabio Coentrao, Diego Llorente, Mariano and Burgui have also left the club permanently.

James and Morata were both important for Madrid last season and the latter's goals (the striker scored 20 in 2016-17) may be missed by Los Blancos this term. At the moment, Real have not brought in a replacement for the Spain striker and may stick with what they have, using Borja Mayoral as back-up to Karim Benzema.

With Marco Asensio likely to feature more prominently in the coming campaign, Lucas Vazquez still an important squad player, Gareth Bale back from injury since the end of last season, Isco in fine form and Ceballos providing another alternative in midfield, Madrid appear well stocked all over the pitch - even without a new centre-forward.

In defence, Nacho and the returning Jesus Vallejo (a Spanish Under-21 international who spent last season on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt) will deputise for skipper Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Real Madrid graphic 2017-18

The European champions may yet move for another striker late in the transfer window, with the future of Monaco's Kylian Mbappe still unresolved and money available following the sales of Morata and Danilo.

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"I'm really happy with the squad and all the players," Zidane said on Tuesday. "They are all going to stay. As I always say, up until the 31st [of August], anything can happen. I don't control that, but what I can tell you is that I am very happy with the players I have."

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So he should be. Because with or without a new No. 9, Madrid's squad is still the strongest in European football, featuring excellent back-up options in every position apart from a central striker (where Asensio, Bale, Ronaldo and even Lucas can fill in if necessary along with Mayoral) and right-back (where Nacho, Lucas and Theo can provide cover).

Barcelona's bench is still short of quality, as Sunday's Supercopa first leg showed, while Atletico are unable to field any new signings until January due to their transfer ban. So, after winning La Liga last season for the first time since 2011-12, Madrid go into the 2017-18 season as big favourites to repeat their title triumph and also look like the team to beat in Europe as well.

"The players are hungry to win it all," Zidane said last week. And that is ominous news for everybody else.

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