Real Mallorca v Real Madrid
After battling against the odds to finish fifth in La Primera Division last term, Mallorca will have to pick themselves up from a morale-sapping pre-season campaign to match a Real Madrid side newly fuelled with another batch of star players.
Financial problems have been at the root of Los Bermellones’ woes, with several of their stars from last year’s campaign leaving, including Fernando Varela and Aritz Aduriz. The only replacements drafted in thus far have been Jonathan De Guzman, Ratinho, Joao Victor and Fernando Cavenaghi, and though there are talks of additional faces being signed, their problems are deeper running.
Fifth place should have secured the Balearic side a spot in this season’s Europa League, but UEFA refused to grant them the licence on the grounds that their financial status was not secure enough, leaving the players who had fought so hard to achieve their lofty position bereft of any reward.
There’s also been a change of coaching this summer as Michael Laudrup will take charge of the island club, who were led last season by Gregorio Manzano. After doing a fine job with the Iberostar Estadi side for four years, the 54-year-old couldn’t broker a new deal due to the club’s financial problems.
Underpinning Mallorca’s unlikely rise to prominence last term was a terrific home record, which was sullied only by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla – three of the top four. If they are to achieve an even more unlikely repetition of last term’s achievements, they must somehow replicate such form.
Summers at the Bernabeu are never uneventful, and the off-season has once again provided a few thrills and spills for Real Madrid. While the transfer market may not have brought signings on the earth shattering scale of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, los Blancos have instead focussed on the dugout, jettisoning coach Manuel Pellegrini for Jose Mourinho.
Already the Champions League winning trainer of last term seems to have made an impression in his new surrounds, and of course he is ever confident that success will follow him
“I want to build a different Real Madrid, hoping it will be better. We hope to win something the team has failed to win in the recent past,” the Portuguese told UEFA’s official website. “The thing that has struck me most is that the players want to win.
“Despite what many people think, these players are not in a comfort zone just because they are playing for Real Madrid. It’s completely the opposite – the players want to win and to improve. It’s a team I like to work with. It’s not a perfect team, nor is it a team that has just been put together, but it is a pleasure working with the players here.”
The coach’s message seems to have got through to the players already. “Mourinho is very honest and we feel very close to him. He has made us stronger,” Marcelo told los Merengues’ official website. “The only objective we have is to focus on one match at a time. We need to fight in every game in order to reach far.”
Madrid’s first goal is to overcome Mallorca, and if they do that, the players can approach the forthcoming international break satisfied with their early season efforts.
There is a doubt over the fitness of central defender Ivan Ramis, whose season last year was cut short due to injury. He has an unrelated problem picked up in a friendly and could be replaced by Ruben Gonzalez. New signing Fernando Cavenaghi could make his debut, but with his lack of time with the squad it is doubtful he will start.
Probable Starting XI: Aouate; Pau Cendros, Nunes, Ruben, Ayoze; Nsue, De Guzman, Marti, Castro; Webo, Victor.
Pepe and Mahamadou Diarra have been reduced to light workouts in recent days as they attempt to shrug off injury niggles, while Brazilian playmaker Kaka is sidelined for the beginning of the campaign due to injury.
Fernando Gago picked up a knee problem in Tuesday night’s encounter against Penarol and will miss around five weeks of action. Defenders Raul Albiol and Ezequiel Garay are injured.
Probable Starting XI: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Carvalho, Marcelo; Khedira, Granero, Alonso; Oezil; Ronaldo, Higuain