Thứ Hai, 27 tháng 7, 2015

Real Madrid strength in depth already better under Rafa Benitez

Jese and Casemiro look solid replacements for the first XI.
It is still too early to draw significant conclusions, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism after manager Rafa Benitez's Real Madrid side saw off Manchester City 4-1 on Friday in Melbourne, Australia.
Aside from the obvious plus points -- a smiling Cristiano Ronaldo on the score sheet, Luka Modric back in the engine room, and a strong defence giving goalkeeper Keylor Navas a watching brief, for the most part -- there is more to this Real side than immediately meets the eye going into the new season.
Benitez has taken a schoolmaster's approach to his new squad and everybody has started with a clean slate. Unlike his predecessors, to a lesser or greater extent, the Spaniard has resisted the temptation to simply run down the list of players available to him and mark "loan" next to their names without having a good look first.
It's fairly obvious that Jose Maria Romero, Ruben Yanez and Marcos Llorente won't be first-team material during 2015-16, but everyone else on Real's Southern Hemisphere tour is being given a fair chance, which can only strengthen the side in the medium term.
Previous manager Carlo Ancelotti didn't do a lot wrong during his tenure at the Bernabeu, but there is mitigation for the board's decision to sack the Italian; when the first team was diminished by injury, Ancelotti had little in the way of solutions, and at the tail end of last season it cost the club dearly.
He may not have fancied the resources he had at his disposal -- as proven by his reluctance to field €32 million man Asier Illarramendi -- but he failed to address yawning gaps in his squad throughout his two-year reign. Benitez seems intent on making sure he has more options from the bench.
The signing of Lucas Silva may have been a whim of the sporting directorship, but Ancelotti perhaps should have displayed more faith in Casemiro, who proved at Porto that he is more than capable of filling the third-choice defensive midfield slot.
Silva was billed as one for the future, but it smacked more of a panic buy because the hierarchy clearly was not convinced that Illarramendi was up to the task. Thrown in at the deep end, it became painfully apparent that Silva was flailing badly in unfamiliar waters. A loan outing for the €14 million Brazilian is inevitable, not least because among Real's four non-EU players -- the rules allow just three to be named in a matchday squad -- he is the most expendable, behind James Rodriguez, Danilo and Casemiro.
Benitez is fashioning a squad where ability will be as important as marketability, at least within the parameters of a club like Real Madrid. Lucas Vazquez was brought back to the Bernabeu after a successful loan spell at Espanyol, where he showed he has the confidence to run at opposition defenders and a penchant for tracking back, which is not exactly the case with Real Madrid attacking players normally.
Although he can expect to act as an understudy to Gareth Bale initially, at 24 Vazquez will also be encouraged to ensure that the Welshman doesn't get too complacent. It doesn't seem likely that there will be any "untouchables" on Benitez's watch if the manager's opening gambits are anything to go by.
Meanwhile, Denis Cheryshev looks set to be another beneficiary of Benitez's open house approach. The Russia international, also 24, was recalled after a successful loan at Villarreal last season and has been playing his way into Benitez's plans Down Under. Real lacked any genuine backups to Bale and Ronaldo last season during Jese's lengthy injury layoff, but both Vazquez and Cheryshev, who found the net Friday against City, have league experience and are fully equipped to step up when required at the Bernabeu.
If Benitez can draw the best out of Jese in a centre-forward role -- the Spain under-21 international started there against Roma -- then Real will have a full order of replacements across the front line for the 2015-16 season. Benitez himself has stated there's no point in buying if the squad can't be instantly improved, and it's difficult to upgrade on what Real already possesses. What Benitez is building is a solid backup supply for the nominal first XI, which is what he put out against City in the absence of Rodriguez.
With Casemiro back at the Bernabeu to plug the hole at the base of midfield when Toni Kroos or Modric are unavailable and Isco excelling in the role of a deep-lying playmaker in Australia -- the Spain international provided two assists in Friday's victory -- Benitez has more or less everything he needs for the season ahead.
When the fixtures start piling up and injuries and suspensions take their toll, Real are far better equipped already to challenge on all fronts than they were last year. That's some pretty solid work on the part of the new manager with four weeks still to spare until the season begins in earnest.

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