After a disappointing 2014/15 campaign, it’s already been all change at Real Madrid this summer. The club parted ways with Carlo Ancelotti after a trophyless season and have appointed former Napoli manager Rafa Benitez as their new head coach. Benitez is an experienced coach and has achieved success in Spain, England and Italy during his managerial career, so, in theory, he should suit Real down to the ground. With a busy summer of transfer activity ahead, the Spanish giants are well set for a title challenge.
In the last campaign, Luis Enrique’s Barcelona side won the Primera Liga title, the Copa del Rey competition and Europe’s elite club tournament, the UEFA Champions League. This was their second treble in six years and Real have acted immediately to try and bridge the gap to their arch rivals. Madrid have one of the greatest squads in world football and, with a couple of signings, they are more than capable of toppling Barcelona and lifting Spain’s domestic title for the 33rd time.
Real Madrid finished just two points behind champions Barcelona in La Liga last season, which suggests that Los Blancos are more or less on par with Luis Enrique’s side. However, while Madrid’s performances in the second half of the season often lacked inspiration, Barca were scintillating and deservedly won the title. You must remember that Real Madrid held a commanding lead over Barcelona earlier in the season after they embarked on a club record run of 22 consecutive victories in all competitions.
At one stage, the 2014 Champions League winners were five points ahead of their rivals but they would ultimately pay the price for a few poor performances later on in the season. They certainly aren’t a million miles away from winning the Primera Liga title but they aren’t exactly close either. Benitez has a job on his hands if he is to lead Los Blancos to silverware in his first season at the Santiago Bernabeu. Despite this, some supporters are already getting ahead of themselves and believe Real Madrid could go on to win La Liga and the Champions League crown next season.
In terms of transfer targets, the Spanish giants have been linked with a number of players but have shown interest in two in particular, goalkeeper David de Gea and Juventus star Paul Pogba. These two players are not only young, but extremely gifted and naturally talented. De Gea, who played for city rivals Atletico Madrid earlier in his career, is set to take over from Bernabeu legend Iker Casillas for the national team and he may also take his place as Real’s number one goalkeeper if they are to tempt him away from Old Trafford. Pogba, meanwhile, is regarded as one of Europe’s best young players and has caught the attention of the continent’s elite clubs. Although it may take a bid in excess of £80 million to prise him away from Juventus, the 22-year-old is worth the risk and could be the difference in La Liga’s title race in the new campaign.
De Gea is incredible. The 24-year-old is arguably the best goalkeeper on the planet and his form throughout the last 12 months has been the key reason as to why Manchester United finished in the top four last season and secured Champions League football for the upcoming campaign. Not only is De Gea exceptionally gifted at shot stopping, but his distribution and ability with the ball at his feet means that he would be a perfect fit for Los Blancos. Judging by reports, it seems as though it’s only a matter of time before Real formalise a bid for the United goalkeeper and, with just one year remaining on his contract at Old Trafford, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the club let the Spaniard move to the Bernabeu this summer. Here are just some of De Gea’s highlights throughout the 2014/15 season.
On the other hand, Pogba’s move appears less obvious but there is no doubt that the Frenchman is certainly on Real’s radar. The 22-year-old was instrumental in Juventus’ success last season – as they lifted the Serie A title for the fourth consecutive campaign – and has attracted plenty of attention across Europe. Pogba’s former club, Manchester United, Premier League champions Chelsea, France’s top club side Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid are all reportedly interested in signing the midfielder this summer.
Blessed with talent, power and pace, Pogba possesses traits very similar to Yaya Toure when he burst onto the scene. The Frenchman’s powerful running style means that he can burst past opposing players and expose defences, while he has also scored a number of phenomenal efforts from outside the box. In 26 Serie A matches last season, Pogba scored eight goals and assisted three more – not a bad return for a central midfielder. Juventus will do everything in their power to ensure that Pogba remains at the club but it would be hard to turn down a suitable offer from Real if they came knocking. This signing, as well as the acquisition of De Gea, could be the key transfers that help Real to win their first La Liga title since 2012. At the time of writing, betfair are offering 1/12 on De Gea to sign for Madrid before the end of the summer transfer window, while they also price Paul Pogba at 4/1 to move to the Bernabeu in the same timeframe.
As for their current squad, Real will expect a lot more from some of their players. Gareth Bale, in particular, was disappointing last season after a phenomenal maiden campaign at the Bernabeu. The Welshman, who recently scored the only goal of the game as Wales beat Belgium in their European Championship qualifying match, struggled for form throughout the season and often appeared to be trying too hard. He was accused of being selfish at times, and rumours of a feud with Cristiano Ronaldo began to surface as Madrid went through a brief poor run of form. The 25-year-old, who remains the world’s most expensive footballer in the history of the sport, must show a lot more if he is to keep his place at the Bernabeu this season.
Madrid have an exceptionally talented squad and the Spanish giants are more than capable of regrouping for a title challenge under Benitez. The former Liverpool manager has been criticised for his man management of the bigger players in the past and he must ensure that he remains firm if he is to succeed at the Bernabeu. The Spaniard has already revealed that he is not afraid to bench Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo if he believes that the forward needs a rest. Although this may be a little reckless, it is the kind of statement that demands respect from the squad, board and, most importantly, the fans. With a bit of luck, Real could certainly lift the trophy in the new season – especially if the club manage to bring both De Gea and Pogba to the Bernabeu before the campaign begins.