Predicting Real Madrid's First-Choice Starting XI for the 2012-13 Season
How do you improve a title-winning team?
Well, that is the dilemma facing Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid ahead of the 2012/12 season.
Last season, he toppled great rivals Barcelona and will do everything in his power to ensure that he regains the initiative this time round.
That being said, what is the best XI the Portugusse manager can field, made up of current stars and those being linked with a move to the Bernabeu?
Let's find out.
Iker Casillas' position as the No. 1 at Real Madrid is certainly under no threat.
He has won everything there is to win in the game during his career and is a rare homegrown galactico within the La Liga champions side.
Saint Iker is also captain of not just club but country also, and he has broken a number of records over the years.
After making his debut in the late 1990s, he became the youngest person to appear in a Champions League final, in addition to holding the most caps at an international level.
Potentially a controversial choice to occupy a starting XI place is Marcelo.
The Brazilian left-back has a fierce competition with Fabio Coentrao, with both players being rotated on a regular basis through last season.
Marcelo is renowned as being the better player going forward, while the Portuguese is thought to be the more accomplished at the back.
Could the creativity going forward be the deciding factor in who will start the majority of the games next season?
A central defensive partnership is an integral part of any successful side, and Real Madrid are certainly no different.
Despite being prone to the occasional negative headline, Pepe's influential role within the team cannot be questioned.
He is a man that simply dominates battles in the air, and the man who arrived with a bumper fee from FC Porto is an integral cog of the Madrid machine.
Which leads us on to a central defensive partnership.
After being utilised as a right-back for much of his club career, Sergio Ramos profited from injury to cement a place in the heart of defence.
An injury to Ricardo Carvalho last term meant a switch at the back, and a successful partnership with Pepe was formed.
Add this to links that the ex-Chelsea man could be on the move, and it is hard to look beyond Pepe and Ramos as the regular pairing throughout 2012/13.
Within a successful footballing side, there is always going to be one man who is viewed as the weak link, and unfortunately for Alvaro Arbeloa, that is what many think of him within Real Madrid.
The right-back brought to the club from Liverpool has become somewhat of a regular within both club and national sides.
Different names will continue to be linked, but is this really necessary?
Arbeloa has proved himself to be a reliable and resolute fullback.
One of the elder statesman of the Real Madrid setup, Xabi Alonso can also rank as one of the most underrated.
He plays the game at his own pace and is as calming a presence in the middle of the park as you could come across.
His unerring passing ability is the crux of his game, and it is this quick thinking and accuracy that sets up many a Madrid counterattack.
Despite his near veteran status, Alonso will once again prove to be crucial in the fight against Barcelona.
With a preference to field a 4-2-3-1 formation, Khedira has become somewhat of a regular despite regularly dividing opinion.
He possesses many of the abilities of his partner in crime and, at a much younger age, can only continue to improve under the guidance of Alonso.
In addition to cutting out attacks, he also has a penchant for getting forward, a quality that can reap many rewards.
Another man who seems to be dividing opinion amongst Real Madrid fans is Luka Modric, and his potential move to the Bernabeu from White Hart Lane.
Would he be able to make such an impact in the Spanish capital that would justify what would surely be a huge transfer fee.
Angel Di Maria is the alternative option, a man who came third in last year's assists rankings.
One thing that does seem real, though, is the club's interest in the Croatian, and for the layout required to make the deal possible, it is hard to imagine Modric wouldn't be propelled into the starting lineup.
This selection is, however, purely fictional. We have all seen difficult it can be to prize a play away from Spurs when they don't want to sell.
A man who has grown immensely into Real Madrid's starting XI is German Mesut Ozil.
The playmaker has established himself as a regular, keeping former world player of the year Kaka on the bench.
Last season was undoubtedly his best for Los Merengues, finishing the season as the top assist maker in La Liga.
Does this mean he is as important to the side as those who put the ball in the net? And can he improve next time around?
The enigma of Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo enjoyed his best ever season in Spain during 2011/12 as he helped wrestle the La Liga title away from tormentor Lionel Messi and Barcelona.
Since a world record fee brought him to Spain, Ronaldo has gone from strength to strength.
His goal-scoring record is simply ridiculous but is somehow bettered by the Argentine from the Nou Camp, with a seemingly constant debate going on over who had the better time of it during 2011/12.
He has the physicality, tricks, shooting strength and aerial ability, but can he improve on last term?
Another position that is widely debated within football, and Real Madrid in particular, circles.
Who is considered the main striker? Is it Gonzalo Higuain or Karim Benzema?
Well, judging from the games each player started last term, it is the Frenchman who takes the title, despite finishing one goal below the Argentine in last season's goal-scoring charts.
Both have an incredible ability to score goals, but it is perhaps Benzema's superior linking ability that stands him out.
Best of the Rest
Football is not just about a starting XI, though. We often see the strength in depth contained with sides responsible for much success.
Within the ranks of the Bernabeu, however, this is certainly of no concern.
Names like Kaka, Fabio Coentrao, Esteban Granero, Lassana Diarra, Nuri Sahin, Angel Di Maria and Raphael Varane could well find themselves on stand by just in case things aren't going to plan.
So, there we have it, a starting XI complete with a few stand-bys.
What are your views? Would that XI bring success or should it be tweaked? Alternatively, should more signings be made to improve it?