Real Madrid season preview: Injuries, poor pre-season create doubts for Zinedine Zidane's men despite reinforcements
Real Madrid splashed the cash and spent over 300 million Euros in the summer to recover from a miserable campaign last season. But injuries and uncertainty in pre-season give little room for optimism.
Real Madrid spent over 300 million Euros in the summer with Eden Hazard the most expensive buy
In the pre-season, Real Madrid conceded 18 goals with just two wins
Zidane's primary target in Paul Pogba failed to materialise
Real Madrid lacked the cutting edge in their first season without Cristiano Ronaldo. The club needed a striker or an attacking midfielder to fill in with those 35-plus goals a season. Or a couple of players taking up their tallies. None of that happened. Additionally, the defence was all over the place leaking 71 goals across five competitions. From three consecutive Champions League titles to woeful defeats to CSKA Moscow and eventual exit at the hands of Ajax.
The toll of dismal defeats came down on the managers - as it does at the Bernabeu. Julen Lopetegui lasted all of 138 days with a 1-5 hammering by Barcelona the final straw. Santiago Solari came in as interim manager from Castilla, became permanent and was sacked in five months. Before Zinedine Zidane came in for a second stint.
And that's where we're now in terms of Real Madrid's expectations and situation as far as the manager is concerned.
If last season Real focused on building a team for the future with signings like Vinicius Junior, Brahim Diaz and Alvaro Odriozola, this time the approach has been a bit of both - finding the right players to make a difference and in spotting the right young talent. Enter Eden Hazard for 100 million Euros, Luka Jovic for 60 million Euros and Rodrygo for 40 million Euros. Spending of 300 million Euros later, Real Madrid look stronger for the future but for 2019/20 - it is a tough ask.
Mateo Kovacic's loan deal to Chelsea became permanent and was the most expensive sale of the summer. Promising Dani Ceballos went on loan to Arsenal while Marcos Llorente took the short trip to Atletico Madrid.
Away from Hazard, the biggest transfer story surrounding Real Madrid was the move that didn't happen. Gareth Bale was linked with numerous clubs, including a blockbuster deal in China, but eventually, the Welshman forms part of the squad. How the relationship between Zidane, Madridistas and Bale works out on the pitch remains to be seen. There were hostilities between the striker and the fans last season and it is expected to get worse - unless a serious turnaround happens.
Additionally, the club failed in finding the right deal to bring Paul Pogba - despite the Frenchman being Zidane's number one target. All is not over though with the chances of Pogba arriving and Bale leaving still possible considering Spain's transfer window closes on 2 September.
Another move that didn't transpire features a midfielder. James Rodriguez, one of the most likable players for the fans, returned from his loan move with Bayern Munich. There were rumours linking him with Napoli and Atleti but neither materialised and with the rising count of injuries, it appears to have been for the best.
Having amassed the quality buys during the summer and with Zizou back at the helm, Real Madrid fans and certainly the board would have hoped for a better string of performances than the two wins in pre-season. In total, Real lost three games and worryingly so, conceded 18 goals including a 3-7 humbling by cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid.
Zidane couldn't quite get the right formation or team in order during the pre-season. The results have only added to the pressure and made him one of the contenders to lose his job before the year is out.
Hazard has come under criticism for appearing out of shape during the pre-season where he scored one goal. To compound Zidane's troubles, the Belgian is out of the first fixture with a muscle injury and could be out for more.
Besides Bale and Real Madrid's sporting director, the other aspect of the club that has been overly occupied is Sanitas - the Spanish side's medical partners. Asensio picked up an ACL injury and is out for most of the season with hamstring concerns for Rodrygo and Ferland Mendy. Hazard is out for the early few weeks of the season with a thigh injury and will definitely miss the opener against Celta Vigo. Brahim Diaz returned to training ahead of matchday 1.
Madrid finished 19 points behind Barcelona in a nightmare season. Zidane was brought back to take the club back to the successful days under him - well at least in Europe - but if the pre-season is any indication, it won't be pretty.
Real Madrid won their fourth straight game against Barcelona, 2-1 at Camp Nou, for their best streak in a Clasico in 56 years.
"As Barcelona coach you have to take the pressure, no problem. I know the importance of a Clasico," Ronald Koeman said ahead of the clash against Real Madrid.
This was a victory that sent Madrid five points clear of their opponents, a healthy gap even at this early stage of a LaLiga season that has 29 games to go.