Real Madrid Are Relying on Rafa Benitez, Not New Transfer Signings, to Win LigaAugust 14, 2015
Real Madrid dispensed with Carlo Ancelotti in the summer and brought in Rafa Benitez to be the new head coach, following a season where they finished second in la Liga and failed to compete for cup prizes also, both in Europe and on the domestic scene.
Marca have reported how none of these factors have prompted Real into their usual response: Spending tens of millions in the transfer market on big-name players, with only right-back Danilo coming in as a probable starter over the summer.
What it means for the Santiago Bernabeu club is that they are looking for new coaching strategies and a better framework within the regular starting XI to bridge the gap to Barcelona and win la Liga this season, after just one triumph in the last seven years.
Marca's piece states a total expenditure this summer of just over €50 million from Real Madrid, with over €30 million of that on Danilo. A back-up goalkeeper in Kiko Casilla was the only other new first-team addition, with the rest made up of buying back their own players after loans and youth signings.
Compared with around €120 million last summer and close to €150 million the summer before, it's easy to see the concern from some quarters over the drop-off in investment considering the team fell short in 2014-15.
Of course there is the ongoing David de Gea situation to consider, with latest BBC Sport reports indicating he is again to miss a Manchester United fixture as transfer speculation affects his mindset. Even so, there is not much reason to think, on paper, this squad should be capable of achieving anything more than it did last year—which was precisely nothing, in the end.
One of the big reasons for Real's empty-handed season was Barcelona, of course. The Catalan club swept home with Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles and recently added the UEFA Super Cup to that haul. The Spanish Super Copa is next on their radar.
Even with a transfer ban in place, they have added to their squad significant offensive quality with Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal able to feature during the second half of the season. Thomas Vermaelen, injured all last season, adds depth to the back line too. The loss of Xavi Hernandez could yet tell, but there is no reason to think Barcelona will be weaker than last year—and getting stronger as the season goes on is of course a likely outcome too.
Then there is Atletico Madrid to consider.
They fell behind at the end of last year, ending 14 points off rivals Real, but have strengthened considerably this summer. Again, while Real Madrid have largely stood still, their two key rivals look better-positioned than three months ago.
So, if the playing staff isn't any better and their rivals are improved, it is in the coaching structure and planning that Real Madrid have trusted to make up ground this term.
Benitez, known for a pragmatic and team-first approach while making use of the absolute star quality available to him, has been trying during pre-season to blend in Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Isco while also seeing what the returning players can offer—Casemiro and Denis Cheryshev chief amongst them.
The systems he uses and his balance between letting the attack off the leash and protecting the defence more than Real managed last season, will dictate how successful he is in his first campaign back at his home club.
Of course, Ancelotti, amongst others, can tell Benitez that if he's not successful, it might also be his only campaign in charge.
With little investment and improvement to a team which couldn't ultimately do the job last year, that's not entirely fair on the management—but everybody who walks into the Real Madrid job knows exactly what they are letting themselves in for. Benitez, in a way, has a perfect opportunity to show that his methods and tactics are indeed that good that they can bridge a gap in talent, cohesion and consistency.
He still has immense quality at his disposal and Real should certainly still challenge, but just how close they get to silverware this year, compared to last year, will perhaps determine once and for all how Benitez's own qualities are viewed by the football world.