History and basic common sense suggest that Sunday’s opening for Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu is going to be a stroll in the park, a cakewalk, a simple case of turning up for Carlo Ancelotti’s men to pick up a victory.
Madrid have not been beaten in the league at home since December 2011. Betis have shipped 13 goals in three defeats in the past three fixtures in the Spanish capital against Madrid and have not won this clash since 1998.
However, Betis are one of the most erratically exciting sides in La Liga on their day and Real Madrid could be caught cold despite a solid preseason. As the feisty Betis coach, Pepe Mel, says “Betis will be ready to win there.” Here are a few tussles where the southern side will need to prevail, to stand any chance of causing a shock to start the Spanish season in style.
5 - Sami Khedira vs. Joan Verdu
The pesky need to pay the bills saw Betis having to sell Benat Etxebarria to Athletic Bilbao over the summer. This was a bit of a blow for Betis with the Basque midfielder being the architect behind all things sweet and good for the club last season, a campaign where the club finished seventh.
However, Betis made a smart move in picking up Joan Verdu from Espanyol on a free transfer, a footballer who is a delightful playmaker and will help make things tick for the Andalusians. Sami Khedira will have a busy evening tracking the Catalan who scored nine league goals last season.
4 - Dani Carvajal v Juanfran
The big headline from this battle, of course, is that the mystics suggest it will be Carvajal starting the game on the right hand side of Madrid’s defence rather than Alvaro Arbeloa. If this comes to pass then the former Castilla player could be taking on an old teammate and one of the new recruits for Betis.
For so many seasons, Juanfran seemed to be waiting for his moment to be called up to the first team squad, but that chance never arrived. After four years in the club’s youth ranks, the winger moved to Betis on a free transfer and looks like being moved over to the left hand side of the team’s forward line to hopefully make it a difficult reunion for Carvajal.
3 - Karim Benzema vs. Stephan Andersen
One guarantee in football is that if you pop a Scandinavian in goal, your side will be as safe as houses. Cannot go wrong. Betis have opted for this approach with the free transfer of Stephan Anderson from Evian. Pepe Mel will be hoping a solid keeper can inspire similar characteristics from a back four that was a little leaky last season.
Real Madrid’s French striker has a big campaign ahead of him as the forward tries to move up a gear in his Real Madrid career and take advantage of the lack of competition from the departed Gonzalo Higuain. With the dominance of Real Madrid, the able support for Benzema and the fact that players like Roberto Soldado and Alvaro Negredo were able to reach the mid-twenties in terms of league strikes last season, Ancelotti must be looking for at least 30 in La Liga from Madrid’s forward. A couple against Betis would be a good way to kick things off.
2 - Sergio Ramos vs. Jorge Molina
One big bit of bad news for Betis going into Sunday’s game is that the side will be missing the truly inspirational forward, Ruben Castro. If the club are to have any hope at all at stopping Real Madrid in their tracks whilst the home side train has barely left the station, then a striker who popped in 18 league goals last season would have been handy. As things stand, Jorge Molina is set to lead the line. Sergio Ramos will have more challenging battles along the way this season, with all due respect to the Betis forward.
1- Cristiano Ronaldo v Leo Messi
Let’s be honest. These types of home games tend to be the sort of occasion where Spain’s big two can rack up cricket scores. Barcelona will looking to do the same against Levante at the Camp Nou. And that means that the most thrilling duel in world football is back on—Cristiano Ronaldo v Leo Messi.
Both will be looking at each other’s performances, for every match, every weekend no matter what the prime poachers themselves may claim. The dynamic duo are so good at the moment that if the pair stay injury free, they could rack up 100 in La Liga between them, starting this weekend.