Real Madrid won the Champions League for a third consecutive season, their fourth European title in five seasons, but greatly underperformed domestically. Los Blancos finished third in La Liga behind champions Barcelona and Atletico Madrid which led head coach Zinedine Zidane handing in his resignation.
The Spanish giants have replaced the club legend with Julen Lopetegui and will look to challenge on all fronts next season, but can they win the title off Barcelona? And after such European success in recent years, can Los Blancos continue their dominance in the Champions League?
Barca are favourites to defend the Liga title, but Real could fetch a sizeable return from the bookies with this Winner bonus. Their new manager impressed in his old job before he was sacked – 20 games for Spain, 14 wins, six draws, 0 defeats – so there’s every chance he could help turn things around at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Atletico Madrid could be a foe in the 2018/19 title race, given they finished above Real last season and have managed to retain two important personnel – manager Diego Simeone and forward Antoine Griezmann. The Rojiblancos will have Diego Costa in the side from the start and should beat the majority of sides they face with their squad.
Barcelona will be expected to win the title. Ernesto Valverde remains in charge of the Catalan giants and has kept all but one of his important players ahead of the new campaign. Andres Iniesta has left the Nou Camp and will be a difficult player to replace. The Spanish giants do possess stellar midfield options, so Iniesta’s absence isn’t felt, but Real will see his exit as a boost to their title hopes.
Last season, Zidane’s men suffered six defeats and drew 10 matches, while conceding 44 goals – twice the amount of Atleti in second. Real’s problems were obvious and it’s down to Lopetegui to fix them. They must be more solid defensively and not leave themselves so open to the counter attack when in possession in the opponent’s half.
Real do have a number of ageing players who may not be able to replicate their performances of last season – Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema – but it’s nevertheless a squad that has played so many together and knows what is expected of them regardless.
Real will certainly challenge Barcelona in La Liga, but the Champions League may be where they falter this time. To win four European titles in five years is an incredible achievement, but there were chinks in the armour last season. Liverpool’s defeat in the final was unfortunate and they were one of many clubs to cause Real defensive problems, so a fourth consecutive triumph may not be possible.