by James Goyder
The appointment of Jose Mourinho should make Real Madrid far more competitive in La Liga and I expect the title race to be closely contested this season.
Real Madrid fans will be wondering what to expect from the team under Jose Mourinho this season. They want matches to be won in swashbuckling style but Mourinho’s sides are renowned for functionality rather than flair.
When it comes to winning silverware though Mourinho has a proven track record and this is the main reason he has been brought to the Bernabeu. Two seasons without a league title are two too many for Real Madrid and the club has not won the Champions League for almost a decade.
The expectation is that the arrival of the self proclaimed ‘special one’ will have an immediate impact at Real Madrid. Mourinho has dealt with this level of expectation before, at Inter Milan he was expected to win the league and the Champions League and he duly delivered, throwing in a Coppa Italia for good measure. He never had a team of Barcelona’s stature to contend with in Italy though and overtaking the reigning Spanish champions will be no easy task.
I suspect Mourinho will employ three central midfielders in order to give the side a more solid core with one of the usual two strikers making way to accommodate the additional man in midfield. No obvious replacement has been signed for either Raul or Ruud Van Nistelrooy who were both on the books this time last year and Real Madrid’s previously excessive collection of strikers is being gradually depleted.
Meanwhile Mourinho has been busily stockpiling midfielders such as Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Pedro Leon and Angel Di Maria. The plan is presumably for the side to be able break fast while maintaining a solid defensive base and Leon and Di Maria will be able to provide some much needed width.
Mourinho will be looking to turn Real Madrid from a loose collection of mercurial superstars into a functional unit in which every player knows his role. There might be another arrival or two before the season starts and at least one central midfielder will need to be cut from the squad but Mourinho already has the basis of the side with which he will look to surpass Barcelona.
The champions have made only superficial changes to the side which has reigned in Spain for the last two years. Yaya Toure has joined the Manchester City revolution, Dmytro Chygrynskiy has returned to Russia and Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez have both been released to the MLS.
In their place have come Brazilian winger Adriano and Spanish striker David Villa. The arrival of Javier Mascherano remains a possibility although Cesc Fabregas will be staying with Arsenal for at least another season. The squad looks a little weaker with all the departures, particularly with Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the verge of a move back to Italy. The first team itself is still strong and provided key players can remain fit Barcelona will be confident of retaining La Liga.
Valencia finished third last time around but bereft of the services of Villa and David Silva they may struggle this season. Atlético Madrid will probably replace them in the top four and Sevilla will expect to retain their Champions League status.
Of the recently promoted sides only Real Sociedad will feel confident of retaining their top flight status. Hercules and Levante will be looking to overtake the likes of Malaga, Sporting Gijon and Racing Santander if they are to make their stay in La Liga anything other than temporary.
All eyes will be on the other end of the table where Barcelona and Real Madrid look set to do battle. No manager has ever won league titles in England, Italy and Spain but beating Barcelona’s to La Liga could well prove to be the greatest challenge of Mourinho’s career.