Sports News

Real primed for another title but must rely on same players

MADRID (Reuters) - After winning last year’s La Liga title with a relentless final sprint, Real Madrid are betting on practically the same group of players as they seek to successfully defend a domestic crown for the first time since 2008.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Real Madrid Training - Ciudad Real Madrid, Madrid, Spain - February 29, 2020 Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane watches Real Madrid's Luka Jovic, Thibaut Courtois and teammates during training REUTERS/Juan Medina

With their finances squeezed by the COVID-19 pandemic and their squad already well rounded, Real have had neither the resources nor the desire this summer to make the glamorous signings for which they are renowned.

The only new addition to Zinedine Zidane’s squad looks to be Norwegian midfielder Martin Odegaard, who returns after spending the last few years on loan across Europe before coming of age with a splendid campaign in La Liga with Real Sociedad.

Odegaard adds yet more intelligence and class to a midfield already overflowing with talent and experience and will help ease the creative burden on Toni Kroos, 30, and Luka Modric, who has just turned 35.

Real also have an outstanding defence, conceding only 25 times last year, and are well covered in every position.

If there is one area of concern for Zidane’s side it is in attack, with a huge gap existing between Karim Benzema and his fellow forwards.

Benzema, who played more minutes than anyone in the team last season, was Real’s leading scorer by some distance with 22 goals, followed by defender Sergio Ramos on 11.

Vinicius Jr. was the second top scoring forward with three goals, while 60-million-euro ($71.06 million) striker Luka Jovic netted twice and injury-plagued Eden Hazard, who cost over 100 million euros, scored once.

Hazard has a lot to do to justify his price tag and is already facing criticism in the Spanish media due to his fitness levels, while the exciting-yet-raw Vinicius badly needs to improve his finishing skills.

Zidane, however, has always said the fact that his team can find goals from all over the pitch is a virtue.

If he can sustain the bloody-minded determination to win games even without playing well which was on display so often last term, his side have an excellent chance of defending their title.

The state of Real’s rivals will also give them plenty of reasons to believe.

Barcelona are still reeling from a dismal finale to the season and are in the middle of a squad overhaul led by new coach Ronald Koeman, while Atletico Madrid and Sevilla still appear to lack what it takes to sustain a proper title bid.

Having watched in frustration as Barcelona have dominated La Liga for more than a decade, Real could hardly ask for better conditions to start building a domestic dynasty of their own.

($1 = 0.8443 euros)

Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge