Real re­straint Madrid gi­ants still the team to beat

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER -

Real Madrid are go­ing for a hat-trick of Euro­pean Cups, hav­ing been the first club of the Cham­pi­ons League era to suc­cess­fully de­fend their tro­phy. Real be­gin at home to Apoel Ni­cosia next Wed­nes­day. Even at 4-1, be­fore a ball is kicked in a nine-month com­pe­ti­tion, the odds look tempt­ing.

Rewind one month and Real’s su­pe­ri­or­ity over Manch­ester United in the Su­per Cup was omi­nous. For once, there has been no new galac­tico this sum­mer – though Mbappe’s sig­na­ture would have been wel­comed – and in fact Real have made a profit in the trans­fer mar­ket. The sale of Al­varo Mo­rata to Chelsea ac­counts for much of it.

Pre­sum­ably – un­der­stand­ably – part of the rea­son is eco­nomic: Real Madrid have been lav­ish year upon year. But – also un­der­stand­ably – man­ager Zine­dine Zi­dane is con­tent with the squad he has. At a time when Barcelona are shaky, and with a Nou Camp hi­er­ar­chy seem­ingly des­per­ate for a new galac­tico of their own, Zi­dane has as­sessed his bril­liant, for­mi­da­ble start­ing XI, the club’s youth sys­tem and re­leased tal­ents of the scale of Mo­rata and James Ro­driguez (on loan). This is the sort of home­grown, ma­ture and pa­tient pol­icy which Real Madrid were ac­cused of lack­ing dur­ing Barca’s La Ma­sia era.

Real Madrid pres­i­dent Florentino Perez can stand this on its head in any trans­fer win­dow of course, but if he is will­ing to trust Zi­dane, then Real are the team to beat.

They have also been drawn with Borus­sia Dort­mund and Tot­ten­ham. One imag­ines Cris­tiano Ronaldo, Luka Mo­dric and the rest will be quite keen to demon­strate their prow­ess at Wem­b­ley against Spurs in Novem­ber. It is their kind of stage.

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