Real Madrid: Complete Guide for the 2012-2013 La Liga Season

Michael CernaCorrespondent IAugust 8, 2012

Real Madrid: Complete Guide for the 2012-2013 La Liga Season

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    For the first time since 2009, Real Madrid enter the season as defending champions. It was a long and difficult journey, but Los Merengues finally ousted Pep Guardiola and Barcelona.

    With Barcelona adding a bit more depth and—more importantly—getting healthy, Real Madrid will find that defending the league title is even harder than winning it in the first place.

    Not many moves have been made this summer, which is shocking for Real Madrid, but many expect at least one major signing to be made.

    This article continues Bleacher Report's coverage of Europe's major teams as we look at the upcoming season.

    Read on to see a preview of Real Madrid's 2012-2013 La Liga season.

Squad Concerns

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    Real Madrid is blessed with arguably the best starting 11 in football. Front top to bottom, the team is full of world class players.

    But that does not mean there are no weaknesses. Going into the new season, there are a few areas that need to be addressed.

    Right Back

    Alvaro Arbeloa continues to be one of the most underrated players in La Liga. He is not the best right back in the league, but he is consistently solid. That's why he recently signed a contract extension.

    The issue is not Arbeloa; it is depth.

    As of right now, Real Madrid is scrambling to find cover for the Spaniard. Sergio Ramos will almost certainly stay in the middle, keeping Madrid's world class pairing together.

    The club failed to utilize its youth and allowed Dani Carvajal to leave for Germany. Even if there is a buy-back clause, Carvajal was very impressive last season and many thought he deserved a promotion.

    Now the only options at right back are Ramos and Lass Diarra. As great as Diarra is in midfield, he is an average right back at best.

    This is a position that will probably be addressed before September, but until then it is a major concern.

    Midfield

    This obviously depends on how the transfer window plays out. If Real can keep Nuri Sahin, Lass and Kaka, they should be fine—if Mourinho uses them all properly, of course.

    If one or more players leave, reinforcements are needed either from Castilla or via transfer. There is one player who seems to be on his way, but the effects of that deal are still unknown.

Transfers

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    Surprisingly, Real Madrid has not made a single transfer this season. Of course, the window hasn't closed yet.

    It is still expected that Real will make at least one signing and has already begun promoting from within. Here is a list of the moves already made this summer.

    Promotions

    Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid Castilla)
    Real Madrid has not made a signing yet, but its lone promoted player—so far—is a key signing for sure.

    The versatile attacker will add depth for Copa and Champions League matches on the wing or even as a shadow. His promotion could only be the first as Jese Rodriguez may prove too good to hold back.

    Transfers Out

    Hamit Altintop (Galatasaray)
    Fernando Gago (Valencia)
    Royston Drenthe (Released)

    None of these players are big losses and only Altintop even played at the club last season, but if Kaka or Sahin gets sold, a replacement is certainly needed.

Potential Moves

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    No moves have been made yet, but in the end, almost no one expects Florentino Perez to let a summer go by without a new Galactico arriving at the club.

    Here are a few moves that may yet be made at the club.

    In

    Luka Modric

    Depending on what day it is, reports say that Luka Modric is either about to sign with Real Madrid or remaining in London due to his transfer fee being too high.

    The Croatian is the center of a long transfer saga for the second year in a row. This time, chances are he will finally get his move.

    Maicon (or another right back)
    This is another move that has conflicting reports. The move makes sense and both parties appear to be interested, but the move has yet to formulate and may not in the end.

    Promotions


    A few more youth players could follow Morata to the first team. Specifically, Nacho and Alex Fernandez, and Jese could all see significant time if healthy.

    Out

    Kaka
    If Modric does find his way to Madrid, it could mean the end of Kaka's time at the club. The club could decide to keep him on for depth and I think that would be wise, but they may try and offload the Brazilian when he is still very valuable.

    Nuri Sahin
    Another confusing move. Sahin never got his fair chance at the club, but rumors are flying that he could be on his way to Arsenal soon.

Key Players

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    Cristiano Ronaldo
    Statistically, Real Madrid would still have won La Liga without Ronaldo, but his presence in big games was irreplaceable. They may have still won La Liga, but certainly not by as many points as they did.

    Quite simply, Madrid will not beat Barcelona without Ronaldo. Last season he became more of a team player and that growth will need to improve even more. He can go missing for long periods during matches so he will need to minimize those instances this season.

    Mezut Ozil
    Ronaldo gets all the credit for clinching the winner against Barcelona last April, but it was Ozil who made it happen.

    After receiving the ball in midfield, Ozil put a world-class pinpoint pass ahead of Ronaldo for CR7 to finish.

    Ronaldo didn't even have that great of a match, but gets the praise now since he scoring the clinching goal, even if it was rather simple.

    That last Clasico just encapsulates the unfair perception of Real Madrid. Ronaldo only does so well because he has world class support feeding him.

    Mezut Ozil finally played well against Barcelona last season, and continues to improve as a player. If Real Madrid is going to succeed in big matches, it will be because Ozil puts his teammates in position to succeed.

Poised to Breakout

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    Nuri Sahin
    If he stays with the club, he will have a big chance to prove his worth. He may face competition from Modric, but Sahin is a superb player who Mourinho can find a lot of use for.

    Sahin is the youngest footballer to play in the Bundesliga as well as the youngest to ever score. He was the league's Player of the Season in 2011.

    The Turkish national is able to play as a central playmaker or as the front half of Real's double pivot.

    It would be a big shame for Real Madrid to give up on Sahin so soon.

    Jese Rodriguez
    He will start the season at Castilla, but he will certainly see time on the first team. A single injury could also see him promoted for the season.

    Jese is one of the most exciting prospects to come out of Madrid for a long time. With is pace, power, and dribbling ability, he reminds many people of his idol, Cristiano Ronaldo.

    In the Under-17s this summer, he and Barcelona's Gerard Deulofeu were the talk of the tournament. If he has a repeat of last season for the B squad, he may be too irresistible for Mourinho.

Concerns from Last Season

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    Jose Mourinho finally helped Real Madrid regain the title from Barcelona, but they failed to capture the Champions League title while also almost suffering a historic collapse in La Liga.

    There were a few major concerns from last season that will carry on to the new campaign until the team can show they have improved.

    Squad Rotation and Consistency

    For a manager that is arguably the best in football, Mourinho was a very poor handler of his team last season. At various times throughout the season, his failure to fully trust his fringe players cost his squad points as well as fitness.

    His apparent refusal to integrate the talented depth at his disposal—including youth players—can be argued as a key reason they failed in Europe, as the key players were so tired by the Champions League semifinals.

    The four points lost in three days to Villarreal and Malaga encapsulated the poor squad rotation, but it was not the only time Madrid struggled in consecutive matches.

    There were countless matches where Real Madrid were basically outplayed by far inferior teams—Granada, Levante, Rayo, and Betis are all examples.

    Fortunately for Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo was almost always there to bail them out when the team was struggling. This brings us to the second concern for Madrid.

    Leadership

    Ronaldo deserves all the credit in the world for playing his best football when the team needed him most, but he should not have to carry such a heavy burden.

    With Barcelona getting healthy and the pressure easing off Messi a bit, they should grow even stronger. If guys like Mezut Ozil and Karim Benzema cannot become better leaders, Ronaldo may not be able to handle such pressure a second time.

    Aerial Defense

    Last season Sergio Ramos shifted seamlessly back to central defense after he was called upon to replace Ricardo Carvalho. His partnership with Pepe became one of the best in football.

    The pairing worked very well despite some issues with positioning and Ramos getting too far forward. However, the bigger issue came in the air.

    More so in the second half, the defense was terrible when covering set pieces and crosses. Almost across the board, Madrid's back four failed when the ball was put in the air.

    Pepe has.always been a liability in the air despite his size. He is not a great man marker and often seems to just lose focus. Ramos also disregarded his duties far too often.

Starting XI

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    Midfield
    Not much to change from last season. Why should it be any different after such a great season anyway?

    If Modric is signed, he could play in the middle alongside Ronaldo and Ozil. He may also play in central midfield, but would not start over Xabi Alonso or Sami Khedira.

    He could also allow Jose Mourinho to revert to the 4-3-3 with Ozil pushed forward as a false winger. That would leave Modric, Alonso, and Khedira in the middle.

    Defense
    Fabio Coentrao is the better defending left back so he will trade time with Marcelo throughout the season. Raul Albiol and Raphael Varane give nice options in the middle.

    Forwards
    Real Madrid is the deepest team in the league in terms of center forwards.

    Gonzalo Higuain is desperate to get more playing time so Benzema should stay rested. Jose Callejon and Alvaro Morata will also try to take advantage of any time on the pitch.

Expectations

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    If no moves are made, the league title is still winnable. If Jose Mourinho can better manage his squad, the Champions League can also be won with the current squad.

    If the team improves by signing defensive cover and Luka Modric while keeping at least Sahin or Kaka, a treble-winning season could be in order.

    This is a team that broke all kinds of league records last season and was a penalty shootout away from the Champions League final. Only Barcelona could take them in the Copa del Rey and even that one was close.

    Real Madrid is as talented a team as any in football so a treble will not be achievable, but will likely be the goal.

Conclusion

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    Now I turn it over to you readers.

    What are your expectations for Real Madrid going into the season? Will Luka Modric arrive as the only signing of the summer?

    Can Real Madrid outlast a healthy Barcelona squad and challenge for the Champions League title?

    Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below.

     

    Check  Tony Mabert's and Karl Matchett's continue Bleacher Report's coverage of Tottenham's and Liverpool's 2012-2013 Premier League season.

    Also keep an eye out for Terry Carrol and Sam Tighe as they bring you previews of Manchester United and AC Milan's upcoming seasons, respectively.

    Finally, please check out my latest articles:

    Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: Who has the Better Youth Academy?
    Santi Cazorla to Arsenal: What it Means for All Parties Involved
    Chelsea: A Complete Guide to the 2012-2013 Season
    Why Real Madrid Will Have Barcelona's Number in La Liga Next Season