Real Madrid's pre-season campaign in the United States has been largely underwhelming for such a decorated outfit.
In three stadiums in three different cities, fans have swarmed to see Los Blancos' stars in staggering numbers, only to witness three consecutive International Champions Cup defeats.
While the loss on penalties to Inter Milan in California can be explained by the presence of what was essentially the club's Castilla squad in the second half, defeats to Roma and Manchester United even when fielding experienced lineups have, in the eyes of some, quietly raised some minor concerns for Carlo Ancelotti.
Alarm-bell time this is not, of course, but losing—regardless of when or how it happens—creates questions.
In fact, you can almost sense the silent, unasked queries hanging over the European Champions: Have Ancelotti's men lost the hunger after capturing La Decima? How long will it take for Cristiano Ronaldo to return to peak condition? Has Real's summer transfer activity upset the balance? Are those who travelled to Brazil after a gruelling season simply exhausted? How many weeks (or months) are Madrid away from hitting top gear?
It's not hard to understand the cause of such concerns. This is Real Madrid after all. Win, win, win they must.
From a big-picture standpoint, however, the manager needn't be concerned with his side's pre-season results.
Unlike the last three summers, this year's pre-season campaign has been different. That's just what World Cups do.
Players return to the squad at varied intervals, workloads need scrupulous attention, rest is as important as training and new signings can't be integrated as rapidly. No simple start button exists. It doesn't all just kick into life and pick up where it left off.
Consider what defined Real's 2013-14 campaign: A devastating, swashbuckling and truly spectacular front three. That's what separated Ancelotti's side from their rivals. Nothing more, nothing less.
So far this pre-season, that trio haven't played a minute together.
Instead, youth products such as Raul de Tomas and Lucas Vazquez have played along the front line. So too has Isco, who's slowly being converted into a makeshift forward. Even right-back Daniel Carvajal found himself on the wing against Manchester United.
In the United States this summer, Real Madrid have been like Formula One car running on diesel. It's just not the same beast. Concerns are being based on a comparison with what was witnessed across Europe last season, but there's no direct comparison to be made.
It's also important to acknowledge the situations of each of Los Blancos' recent opponents.
Both Roma and Inter Milan were well off the pace set by Juventus in Serie A last term, finishing 17 and 42 points adrift of the Italian champions, respectively. That's a hell of a lot of ground to make up, meaning Rudi Garcia and Walter Mazzarri's men have plenty to prove this summer.
Quite simply, they have no choice but to hit the ground running.
Manchester United are undertaking a similarly daunting task, needing to recover from last season's seventh-placed finish in the Premier League under the guidance of Louis van Gaal.
Given that the Dutchman appears to be drastically reshaping the 2012-13 English champions, United's players have plenty to play for at present, with reputations and previous positions seemingly ready to count for little under Van Gaal.
It is any wonder then, that all three outfits looked decidedly sharper and more eager to impress in a pre-season tournament than Ancelotti's European conquerors?
The manager, too, will understand that this is all part of the process this summer for Los Blancos. After all, you don't capture league titles in three countries and add a trio of Champions League crowns to your CV if you're uncertain of how to navigate the path.
Indeed, Ancelotti is likely to have acknowledged that a fast-paced start to the season is unlikely for his team.
After a La Liga title challenge that lasted until the final weeks of the 2013-14 campaign and an arduous but ultimately triumphant run in the Champions League, it was inevitable that football's equivalent of a hangover would slightly affect Real Madrid's squad in the lead-up to the new season, particularly those members who took part in this summer's World Cup.
Thus, it's pointless looking across the continent to other major European rivals to gauge Madrid's true progress.
Bayern Munich, for example, are enjoying a blistering pre-season campaign, racking up four victories and a draw in five outings thus far. But Pep Guardiola's men clinched last season's Bundesliga title in record time, putting the queue in the rack in March with seven weeks still to go.
The German's European run also concluded three weeks earlier than Real's.
Furthermore, jumping out of the blocks doesn't guarantee success. Just ask those who represented Arsenal last season. Then compare the timeline of the Gunners' campaign to that belonging to Manchester City.
Indeed, it's how hard you hit the finish line that counts.
In La Liga, Ancelotti's men missed a golden opportunity to claim a treble last season, watching their league run lose momentum in the critical final weeks. Had Los Blancos finished with greater force, the Spanish title would have also been theirs, given that Atletico Madrid and Barcelona didn't claim a single victory between them in the season's final three weekends.
When the new campaign begins in late August, the only necessity for Real is to stay within touching distance of their La Liga rivals. How they move through the gears thereafter will be what determines their success.
So while other clubs in Spain and across Europe can use this summer's pre-season as a loose barometer of progress, there are extenuating circumstances surrounding the continental champions, the slow beginning is a natural consequence of the events which have preceded it.
Ancelotti and Real Madrid, therefore, needn't be concerned.
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