Unchanged Real set to begin Spanish League title defence - GulfToday

Unchanged Real set to begin Spanish League title defence

Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane (left) will be forced to rely once again on evergreen players such as Karim Benzema (right), Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric. File / Reuters

Real Madrid are keeping most of the same players to try to win back-to-back Spanish Leagues for the first time in more than a decade.

Real begins their title defense on Sunday at Real Sociedad with practically the same squad that a few months ago lifted their first league trophy in three years. They haven’t won consecutive leagues since 2007-08 as Barcelona have dominated domestically.

The Catalan rival won eight leagues since Real’s last double, including three in a row from 2009-11. Barcelona won two in a row in 2015-16 and 2018-19. Real’s other titles in the last decade came in 2012 and 2017.

The league began last weekend but Real didn’t play because they received extra time to rest after competing last month in the Champions League round of 16. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who made it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, won’t play in the first two rounds. Europa League winner Sevilla also had its first two games postponed.

Real won their only preseason match on Tuesday against Getafe.

Coach Zinedine Zidane is sticking to a formula that utilizes the entire squad, and isn’t afraid of switching schemes - he went from tactics that focused on three forwards at times, or three defenders, and even five midfielders in some circumstances.

The main player who left was James Rodriguez, who joined Everton in the English Premier League.

Gareth Bale also was expected to leave and was close to a transfer to Tottenham. But neither Rodriguez nor Bale played a big role in Real’s 34th league title, when the team won 10 straight matches after the coronavirus break to overtake Barcelona for the lead.

The coach will be forced to rely once again on evergreen players such as Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema, all over the age of 32, who carried the team to the title last season as they won 10 of their final 11 matches.

Benzema will continue to be supported by young Brazilians Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo, and also, hopefully, by an Eden Hazard who won’t have to endure so many injury problems as he did last season - his first with the club.

Thibaut Courtois returns as the starting goalkeeper, and captain Ramos will be flanked by Raphael Varane again, with veteran Marcelo and Ferland Mendy exchanging starts in the left back position. Dani Carvajal will likely start at right back, with competition from Álvaro Odriozola after a brief loan to Bayern Munich.

Back from a loan to Real Sociedad was youngster Martin Odegaard, who will be a midfield option to make up for the absence of Rodríguez. The defensive midfield will again be anchored by the experienced trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Federico Valverde will likely be used often as well, while Francisco ‘Isco’ Alarcón and Marco Asensio remain available as attacking midfielders.

Real made some decent cash in the offseason by loaning the likes of right back Achraf Hakimi to Inter Milan and youngster Oscar Rodriguez to Sevilla. Left back Sergio Reguilon is set to move to Tottenham after a stint with Sevilla.

Young Japan forward Takefusa Kubo was loaned to Villarreal, while Reinier will play with Borussia Dortmund, and Brahim Diaz with AC Milan. Defender Jesus Vallejo will be loaned to Granada, and goalkeeper Alphonse Areola returned to Paris Saint-Germain after a season with Real.

OTHER MATCHES: Villarreal and coach Unai Emery will host Eibar on Saturday, while Real Betis and Manuel Pellegrini will welcome Valladolid on Sunday. Huesca and Cadiz will meet on Sunday in a matchup of promoted clubs.

SCHEDULING DISPUTE: For the second weekend in a row the league had to change the original schedule because of a dispute with the Spanish soccer federation over games on Fridays and Mondays. Friday’s match between Getafe and Osasuna was moved to Saturday, while Monday’s game between Real Betis and Valladolid was moved to Sunday. Two second-division matches also were rescheduled.

All matches will continue to be played without fans.


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