Real switch focus to Barcelona and La Liga
Madrid: Winning the Champions League last season ensured Real Madrid their status as European football royalty but their focus for the coming campaign is to halt Barcelona’s domination on the domestic scene.
President Florentino Perez has thus far resisted the temptation to dig deep into his pockets to sign anther Galactico ahead of the new La Liga season next weekend.
Meanwhile, Zinedine Zidane has won over those who doubted his ability to convert his world class playing abilities into those of a competent coach.
The European success over cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid on penalties in the Champions League final in May was enough to ensure his continued presence in the Real hot seat.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has been the motto of Madrid’s transfer dealings.
Zidane himself admitted ahead of their north American tour last month that “it is difficult to improve on this squad”.
Whilst title rivals Barca and Atletico have added significant depth and quality in the latter’s case, Real have restricted themselves to a homecoming for Alvaro Morata after two years at Juventus by triggering a buyback clause for 30 million euros.
Even that deal looked to have been done with the intention of then selling Morata on to the cash-filled Premier League.
But after scoring three goals in four games for Spain at Euro 2016 the 23-year-old will now battle Zidane favourite Karim Benzema for a place in the starting line-up alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
“They have been two long years and a long wait to return, but I am back at home,” Morata said as he was presented on Monday.
Morata was far from the only Real star to shine at the Euros, another reason for Madrid’s uncharacteristic prudence in the transfer market.
Ronaldo cried tears of pain and then of joy as was carried off with a knee injury before Portugal finally won a major international tournament by upsetting hosts France in the final.
But for many the central defender Pepe was Portugal’s outstanding performer.
Bale was inspired as he led Wales on a historic run to the semi-finals and Luka Modric dazzled for Croatia, whilst Toni Kroos’ passing in the German midfield saw him named in the team of the tournament.
Zidane masterminded a run of 22 wins in 27 games from the point he rescued a shipwreck of a season in January. However, their strong run to the end of the campaign and of many of his players at the Euros was partly thanks to a light schedule after their early expulsion from the Copa del Rey.
Maintaining that form over a full season, which will also include a mid-season trip to Japan for the Club World Cup, will be a much tougher test of Zidane’s managerial mettle.
Moreover, having won just one league title in the past eight years, there is huge expectation on Real to stop Barca boss Luis Enrique matching his friend and former teammate Pep Guardiola’s achievement in landing a hat-trick of La Liga titles in his first three years in charge.