Real Madrid is about dominance and rockstars. Such an ambitious side, the first to rule Europe three times in a row in the Champions League era, they may look at this season not only with lower expectations, but also with despair: never have they felt so rejected.
Cristiano Ronaldo is gone, Zidane said farewell out of the blue and the remaining players, however brilliant, are not so triumph-assuring. Unfulfilled promises of the transfer window, Neymar and Hazard, haven’t shown up and now everything seems to be falling apart for the Spanish superpower, who ended up third place in the last La Liga season.
A disappointing campaign, which allowed a 17-point abyss behind the post-Neymar Barcelona still hurts the white hearts. They will face the humble Getafe on Sunday with a team that has been just made to look very inferior by Atlético Madrid in the Uefa Supercup.
Nevertheless, it should never mean a full reconstruction. A glimpse in the squad tells us that Real Madrid is still strong in the defensive line: Carvajal, Ramos, Varane and Marcelo are a well balanced rearguard, reinforced by Casemiro’s patrolling. Kroos and Modric, MVP of the World Cup, are midfield household names and Isco is a stunning young player yet to develop his full splendor.
The question is on the “aríete”. Once you lose Ronaldo, you know you will miss something that Asensio, Bale and Benzema cannot replace at the same level. Gareth Bale is a wonderful player, able enough to score bicycle kicks in European finals, but with too fragile a body to endure a full 50-match season. That may turn Real Madrid into a more cohesive unit than the winning bunch of last May though.
Let me be clear: Zinédine Zidane knew how to make things work with such amount of talents, but the Blancos never reached an identifiable pattern. Nobody can tell for sure which kind of coach Zizou was in his four seasons with the club he identified himself most with. In spite of the lack of cohesiveness, fans knew that he embodied the ideal of a winning Madrid.
Julen Lopetegui is far from it. A discrete goalkeeper in this playing years, he perpetrated the most embarrassing move of the year, trading a World Cup leading Spain for a contract sneakingly signed with Real Madrid. For those who got used to Zidane’s coolness and elegance, Lopetegui starts the season on a gentlemanly conduct deficit, to say the least.
Fortunately, he took the right decision of keeping Vinicius Junior in the squad. This Brazilian forward will blossom soon, as he has been predicted as a sure name in Tite’s future squads. With Flamengo, he has shown dribbling skills, evolving decision-making and stunning pace with the ball.
Though not the striker Real Madrid needs now, Vinicius was tested under pressure in his Maracanã years, and proved to be fearless in big games. As long as Lopetegui finds a role for him as the 12th player, the demanding crowd at the Santiago Bernabéu may get feverish about him.
That being said, Getafe will need a miracle to stand a chance here. In a friendly against Portuguese Boavista, they exhibited poor attacking quality. There can always be some benefit from Lopetegui’s embryonic work, but only a die-hard pessimistic Madridista would believe it. There are no rockstars to begin this season with, but that does not mean some power chords cannot resonate.