Having failed to win a single trophy despite their 22 game winning streak, Real Madrid decided to sack Carlo Ancelotti at the end of the last season and start a new chapter under Rafa Benitez. Ancelottia s departure was followed by Iker Casillasa who was a unceremoniouslya dumped out of the club as Real Madrid and Manchester haggled over David De Gea and Sergio Ramos.
But with the season approaching its start, Rafa Benitez has the opportunity to shift the focus back on the pitch as Real Madrid gear up for a gruelling season.
Here are five things that can expected as Real Madrid pursue their ambitions under their new manager.
The Gareth Bale Project
As Real Madrid prepare to start their first season under Rafa Benitez, it will be interesting to see what the former Liverpool manager has in store for the likes of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. From using them both as strikers in the pre-season to using Bale as a No. 10 and a false 9, Benitez is yet to zero in on his favoured formation for the team.
Taking over the reins from Carlo Ancelotti, Benitez has made it quite clear that his team will be built around the Welshman who is going to be positioned centrally. While the play-makera s position will give Gareth Bale the freedom to express himself on the field, it is likely to take the sting out of his blistering pace which could adversely affect Real Madrida s attacking abilities.
In order to accommodate Gareth Bale in the No 10 position, Benitez will have to push either Isco or James Rodriguez to the right flank, thus reducing their ability to dictate the proceedings in the middle of the pitch. Both Isco and Rodriguez thrive on their ability to spray the ball effectively across the park while managing to dictate the pace of the game. Defensively, both these players have a tendency to drop behind and help the team, a responsibility that is likely to be shunned by Gareth Bale in his quest to score more goals this season.
So is it the right decision to play Gareth Bale in a more central role? These are questions which will be repeatedly asked throughout this season.
It will also be interesting to see how Benitez manages to cope with Ronaldo during the course of the season. Having neglected the Portuguese superstar in the pre-season, expect tensions to run high at Santiago Bernabeu as the project to a unleasha Gareth Bale takes shape under Rafa Benitez.
Isco or James Rodriguez: The Politics Of Selection
Barring any injuries, this season is again going to be dominated by the Isco-James Rodriguez selection conundrum. Isco has shown himself to be in great form in the pre-season and has made a strong claim for a starting position. On the other hand, James Rodriguez joined the team late but has managed to impress Benitez in a short span of time. The Colombian international enjoyed a successful outing against Tottenham Hotspur in the recently concluded Audi Cup and has proven himself to be match-fit ahead of the start of the season.
Which begets the questions: If Benzema, Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are fit, where will Benitez fit Isco and James Rodriguez?
Just like Gareth Bale, Rodriguez is one of Florentino Pereza s star signing and having made a brilliant start to his career at Madrid, the Colombian will be not be an easy player to bench. Especially with Rafa Benitez being keen to stay in Pereza s good books. Meanwhile Isco is a crowd-favourite and has made a strong claim for himself and if he is continued to be over-looked by the manager in the favour of other a bigger-namesa , the young Spanish international could seek more playing time outside of Real Madrid.
Lack Of Depth In The Midfield
Real Madrida s catastrophic decline last season could be blamed on the singular absence of Luka Modric. With the Croatian midfielder ruled out with injuries for the better half of the season, the team looked out-of-ideas and rudderless as Real Madrid failed to capitalize on its 22 game winning streak.
With a few weeks still left for the transfer window to close, it will be important to see if Real Madrid can manage to add a strong midfielder to their ranks in a bid to ease the pressure on Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.
Though Benitez has recalled Casemiro from Porto, the Brazilian is not of the same ilk as Kroos and Modric and will not be able to replace them for an extended period of time. He is more likely to be used as an effective replacement in order to provide the first team players a break.
Lucas Silva on the other hand seems to have one foot out of Real Madrid already even though he was signed this January. Illarramendi remains a suspect every time he puts on a Real Madrid tshirt and has failed to live up to his billing after he was brought in as Xabi Alonsoa s understudy from Real Sociedad.
Though Real Madrid havena t made a splash in the transfer market this summer, Rafa Beniteza s Real Madrid will herald the arrival of Danilo, Casilla, Lucas Vazquez, Casemrio and Denis Cheryshev at the club. Danilo is expected to compete against Carvajal and Arbeloa for a starting spot as the right-back after Madrid snapped him up from Porto earlier this year. The Brazilian international is a threat while moving forward and is likely to prove to be a valuable addition to the ammunition at Beniteza s disposal.
The return of Casilla, Denis Cheryshev and Lucas Vazquez on the other hand will help Benitez rotate the squad in a bid to give the youngsters an opportunity to develop themselves during the course of the season. However, the two midfielders could be sent on loan again if Real Madrid were to invest in new players this summer. The same goes with Casilla if Manchester United and Real Madrid come to an agreement regarding sale of David De Gea.
Will Rafa Benitez Shed His Defensive Tag?
The former Liverpool manager has a reputation for being defensive and this could adversely affect his fate at Santiago Bernabeu. Carlo Ancelotti was applauded for the manner in which he transformed Mourinhoa s counter-attacking unit into a team that was capable of dominating possession while playing with electric speed and versatility.
However in a bid to strengthen the defensive abilities of the team, Rafa Benitez could risk alienating players like Cristiano Ronaldo, along with the fans at Bernabeu, if he were to compromise on the teama s ability to attack proficiently. Though the manager hasna t given a clear indication of his preferred formation, the fact that Benitez hasna t signed a second striker goes to show that he could use either Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale or maybe both as an attacking duo in a 4-4-2 formation.
Suffice to say that every new manager needs some time to settle into a new club. But Rafa Benitez will not be able to afford a poor start with the sword hanging over his neck at Real Madrid.