Real Madrid Preview
By Nic Evans. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE was a fitting reward for Real Madrid's centenary year, yet having been beaten into third place by Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna, they have some catching up to do domestically.
All summer transfer talk has naturally centred on Real, starting off with Patrick Vieira who opted to stay with Arsenal, Lucio of Bayer Leverkusen has been linked too as Vicente Del Bosque's side look to improve their defensive prowess.
However, recently reports have centred on Ronaldo, yet with Internazionale and Real so vastly at odds on their idea of a fee that it was doomed to failure from the start.
Having bought Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane in recent seasons, following the sale of their training ground and the reduction of debts, the Madrid public are used to high-profile purchases. This term it has been a different affair as Real have offered many player part-exchanges in an effort to reduce debt, finally settling on a series of loan deals.
Like arch-rivals Barcelona, Real are facing a period of financial realisation and are focussing on cutting overheads and have been content to allow the media to explode in a frenzy of speculation as the transfer market faces a worldwide depression.
Real have always been happy to do their deals through the media and this season have allowed them to keep them in the limelight, despite a general lack of incoming transfers or money to spend.
Virtually every day Del Bosque, sporting director Jorge Valdano or one of the players has been wheeled out to say the squad does not need purchases, whilst president Florentino Perez has mused on a couple of occasions that this summer will be a quiet one for the club.
In all honesty Real do not need strengthening. Cesar Sanchez and Iker Casillas will resume their battle royale for the goalkeeping jersey.
The centre of defence, like many in Spain is aging and the links to Lucio and various others show that Real are looking for a long term successor to Fernando Hierro, who Inaki Saez is attempting to lure back into the Spanish national fold.
Michel Salgado has beaten off competition for his role and established himself as a dominating right back, whilst on the opposite flank Roberto Carlos will be Roberto Carlos and stun with his rampaging forward runs and set-pieces as opposite wingers spend most of their time defending.
Having settled down Ivan Helguera is showing he can be the perfect foil to whichever new central defender is brought in, with Del Bosque ditching his attempts to play him in midfield.
The midfield of Zidane, Figo, Claude Makelele and any from the likes of Santiago Solari or Steve McManaman is enough to strike fear in any opposition. Interestingly, Real have taken Esteban Cambiasso back after two years in Argentina on loan and having starred for River Plate in their championship winning side, could win a berth on the left.
Despite missing out on Ronaldo, Real still have plenty of power upfront, Raul will likely pass Hierro this season as Spain's top goalscorer, Fernando Morientes will not be too disconsolate to miss out on a transfer to Tottenham Hotspur, whilst prodigy Javier Portillo is likely to get his chance, having just signed a new contract that will keep him at the club until 2007.
Guti too is an able deputy to the other strikers and Real have four impressive forwards, which has seen the likes of Pedro Munitis and Tote being made available.
A long-run in the Champions League looks to be the likely outcome, with Real probably just missing out on the league championship, although with the pressure of the centenary season out the way, the players may well relax and an extra season of getting used to one another may see them dominate as had been expected.
Planetfootball.com prediction: 2nd
Last season: 3rd
Star Man: Raul
One to watch: Javier Portillo
Ins: Fernando and Tote (Valladolid), Julio Cesar (Benfica), Esteban Cambiasso (River Plate) - all loanees returning.
Outs: Karanka (Athletic), Baljic (Galatasaray), Dorado (Rayo) Rivera