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Minor doubts, but plenty of optimism as Real began Liga campaign

Source : IANS
Last Updated: Sat, Aug 17, 2013 12:40 hrs

Madrid, Aug 17 (IANS) Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has just a few questions to answer before his side kicks off the new Spanish Primera Liga season at home against Real Betis Sunday.

Madrid kick off the campaign as favourites for the title, despite ending last season 15 points behind their only realistic rival for the league, FC Barcelona, reports Xinhua.

Another summer of big spending with the arrivals of Isco, Asier Illaramendi, Javier Carvajal and Casimiro, with the probable signing of Gareth Bale on the horizon, whether the club actually need him or not, has left Madrid with a powerful and balanced squad, which currently looks better prepared to face the rigours of a long campaign than that of Barca.

The optimism was confirmed over a successful summer tour in which Ancelotti was able to mix good training sessions with tough workouts against powerful rivals such as Everton, Chelsea and Inter Milan and the fact they were unbeaten gives yet more grounds for optimism.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the star of the summer and despite doubts over when or whether he will actually sign a new contract with the club, the Portuguese ace is a guarantee of goals, while Isco showed he is going to be worth the 30 million euros the club paid to bring him from Malaga.

Other questions hang over the fitness of Xabi Alonso, who has struggled with a pelvic injury.

Ancelotti has wealth of options in midfield with Sami Khedira, Alonso, Casimiro and Luka Modric battling for two places and it will be interesting to see who gets the nod, especially as the Italian is trying to introduce a game more based on possession than the rapid counter-attack favoured by Mourinho.

An injury to his meniscus ligament which could well keep him out until Christmas means Rafael Varene is sidelined and Pepe will partner Sergio Ramos in central defence, while the debate at the back is whether Carvajal or Alvaro Arbeloa will play at right back.

Up front Karim Benzema, now without the competition from the departed Gonzalo Higuain, has the job of scoring the goals, while Ronaldo is a shoe-in on the left off the attack. That leaves one place up for grabs and it will be disputed between Angel De Maria and Mesut Ozil.

The probable arrival of Bale will further complicate the first team future of both of these players and there is a chance that whoever misses out may look for a transfer before the end of the month, with Manchester United especially interested in Ozil.

Betis meanwhile travel to Madrid after a summer which has seen key players leave the club and the revolving door has seen 10 arrivals and a further 10 departures so coach Pepe Mel will present a totally new-look side at the Bernabeu.

The pre-season, which included a 0-3 defeat to Hull City last weekend suggests they will need time to gel as a side, but one thing is certain, Mel's sides always look to attack and that means a 0-0 is very unlikely this Sunday.




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