2014 was the most successful calendar year in Real Madrid’s history that saw them win four major trophies. However, Carlo Ancelotti was sacked after failing to win any significant silverware last season. So what’s in store for the Los Blancos this time around, under newly appointed manager Rafael Benitez?
Real Madrid began last season full of optimism following their Champions league success, and it looked like Carlo Ancelotti would deliver another memorable season with the Los Blancos. Post December though, Madrid looked like they had taken their foot off the gas following a string of poor performances. The players didn’t look like they were performing to their full potential, and that was the alarming signal for Fiorentino Perez.
Carlo Ancelotti had to see himself out, and Madrid-born manager Rafael Benitez was called upon to take up the job that is perhaps the epitome of a manager’s career. The first task for Benitez is not to instil his philosophy, but to win over his players. He has been criticized in the past for his indifferent style of play which is far from pleasing to the average football fan. Rafa has already said publicly that Gareth Bale is his talisman, and so the system is expected to be set up according to his positioning and movement.
If Bale is Real Madrid’s playmaker, he will be seen playing more centrally and this means natural number 10s like James and Isco will be pushed into the wider areas. A 4-2-3-1 formation could be employed with Bale playing behind the lone striker, and Ronaldo and James on either side of him.
Rafa is a specialist when it comes to European competitions, his record with Valencia, Liverpool and Chelsea are the best examples. He won the UEFA Cup with Valencia; everyone remembers the miracle of Istanbul with Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League Final and the reds reached two finals and a semi-final beating the best of clubs in his first 4 years at Merseyside. Yes, Benitez has been really inconsistent and at times quite poor in the league after leaving Valencia but his European record is nothing short of brilliant.
While his attacking positions are still in good hands, the defence needs to be sorted out. Madrid missed out on signing David De Gea from Manchester United and that means Navas will be seen between the sticks at least until January. Sergio Ramos and Rafael Varane were exploited on more occasions than one last season, and we expect more solidity and solidarity in centre of defence. Jes is expected to finally prove his worth after recovering completely from his long term knee injury. Kroos and Modric, an established midfield duo, will look to supply the attacking players.
As usual, however, the biggest responsibility of all rests on the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo. Although he is not Benitez’s main man, he will undoubtedly be a pivotal influence. His goal scoring record at Real Madrid is better than a goal a game and the Portuguese is close to becoming Real Madrid’s all time top scorer. Madrid’s hopes will once again be pinned on Ronaldo and it will be interesting to see what kind of a rapport he strikes with his new manager over the course of the season.
With Benitez’s philosophy, this Real Madrid side could go all the way in the champions league, but league form will be a concern. The margin for error is negligible as fierce rivals Barcelona, and also Atletico Madrid, will be waiting to pounce on the slightest of slip-ups. An intriguing season awaits.