Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid
August 19, 2012; 22:30 IST
After their historic La Liga campaign last season, Real Madrid will kick off their new campaign against Valencia at the Santiago Bernabéu. While Mourinho would have preferred a much easier opponent ahead of their Spanish Super Cup clash against Barcelona, Valencia too would be thinking on the same lines. Real Madrid have had a quiet transfer window in which only one signing was made as priority and he is yet to arrive.
And then there are players on the transfer market. Kaka has been informed that he is not an integral part of the Mourinho’s plan this season while Nuri Sahin inches closer to a loan deal with either Arsenal or Liverpool.
Ricardo Carvalho, on the other hand, has fallen way below the pecking order and has not attended any training sessions in the preseason indicating his preference to ply his trade away from the club.
Valencia have undergone a major change in letting Unai Emery leave and signing a rookie coach, Mauricio Pellegrino. They have also relinquished Jordi Alba to Barcelona but have managed to keep Soldado at the club. There are not too many changes within the team and so expect Valencia to play the same brand of football they employed last year.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Real Madrid have had a brilliant pre-season with a minor glitch against Benfica in the Eusebio Cup. Their performances against L.A Galaxy and AC Milan were top drawer indicating the level at which the team has been preparing itself for the regular season. With hardly any great injury worries sans Pepe, Mourinho will pretty much have his entire team at his disposal.
Pepe was reported to have sprained an ankle while training with the national team but is expected to be fit to face Valencia. But with the Barcelona game in just another three days, it remains to be seen if Mourinho will risk his first choice center-back for such a crucial game. Raul Albiol meanwhile has signed a contract extension and had a good pre-season with the team, meaning that he will be an automatic choice alongside Sergio Ramos, in case Pepe is rested.
Marcelo returned to training on August 15th and may not be ready for this clash. Coentrao has been with the team through their entire US tour and will be expected to start on the left with Alvaro Arbeloa on the right. Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira will shield their defense as they did last season.
Di Maria, Ozil and Ronaldo will help put in attack. Now, the striker role. This is one position for which Mourinho may not have a definite answer and will be happy about it. Higuain had an excellent game with Argentina this week while Karim Benzema is undergoing a court trial in connection with his under age prostitution charges. The Frenchman may not be in the best mindset to start this game which tilts the scales in favor of Pipita.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Albiol, Ramos, Coentrao; Alonso, Khedira; Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo; Higuain
In addition to Real Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia have always been the team to supply talent to the Spanish squad. But Pellegrino’s team against Real Madrid this weekend may not feature any Spanish player at all unless Soldado makes a quick recovery.
With Jordi Alba departing, Jeremy Mathieu will be the first choice to play on the left flank. Adil Rami, Ricardo Costa and João Pereira will complete the defense. Vicente Guaita, their first choice goalkeeper is injured meaning Diego Alves will start in goal.
David Albelda, their captain, is now 34 and may not be fit to start every game. So Valencia have gone ahead and signed Fernando Gago from Real Madrid who may feature alongside Tino Costa in the midfield.
Sofiane Feghouli was sensational last year and he will retain his place on the right hand side of the attack and will be ably assisted by Andrés Guardado from the left. Pablo Piatti will pull the strings in the midfield and the man leading will be Jonas.
Watching Valencia win against Spurs in the pre-season gave an indication that Pellegrino would continue in the same principles laid down by Emery and will place emphasis on fast transitions and with players Feghouli, Piatti and Jonas, Valencia have a decent offensive force.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Alves; Pereira, R.Costa, Rami, Mathieu; Gago, T.Costa; Feghouli, Piatti, Guardado; Jonas
Player to Watch Out
Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid)
Amid rumors that he will leave the club last year, Higuain stayed calm and after reportedly assurances from Mourinho, has decided to stick with the club and even a signed a new contract extension starting a new phase at Real Madrid.
His performances in the pre-season have been outstanding and he may finally get his chance to stamp his authority on the coveted striker position at the club.
Real Madrid 3 – 1 Valencia
While it would be hard to discount Valencia, Real Madrid’s frighteningly good pre-season form suggests another victory for the home team.
Blast from the Past