Benitez gets Real
THE mercury rose for Real Madrid yesterday as coach Rafa Benitez gave a first glimpse into his plans for tomorrow night and the upcoming La Liga season.
A three-pronged attack of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema was the feature of his ‘first XI’ as Real played a series of highintensity 11 versus 11 games at Melbourne City’s Bundoora headquarters.
While ‘favourite son’ Benitez is still enjoying the honeymoon period since replacing Carlo Ancelotti, the former Real youth player knows fans can turn as quickly as a swift Bale-Ronaldo counter-attack.
Not only did the morning Melbourne sun make for more pleasant training conditions, but the intensity lifted as players went full-throttle and the medical team was called out three times as Bale, Toni Kroos and Daniel Carvajal went down clutching their ankles, after kicks from teammates.
The winter weather hasn’t bothered Benitez, who says the cooler conditions and slicker surfaces are more conducive to preparing his new team to knock Barcelona off its perch.
The ball zipped around the pristine surface yesterday as Benitez tinkered between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formation, shifting Bale around most.
Maligned last season despite scoring 13 goals, Bale appears central to Benitez’s plans, with the former Liverpool boss having seen the Welshman’s stunning evolution first hand in the Premier League.
Bale started off wide right, with Kroos and Brazilian Lucas Silva playing as the holders and Spaniard Isco in the hole.
He was later moved into a central role, alongside Benzema, and Bale appeared to have a licence to roam, as Danish teenager Martin Odegaard, 16, then played on the right.
Spain youth international Marcos Llorente was also tried in midfield, though Benitez will have to save a spot for Colombian whiz James Rodriguez, who has been granted ex- tended leave after serving Copa America duty.
Ronaldo was at all times playing off the left while Benzema, who looks certain to stay despite interest from Arsenal, was central.
While Benitez tinkered with three different line-ups, playmaker Luka Modric was probably the only star who appeared to be in the second XI throughout, perhaps exercising caution after three months out with a knee injury.
Pepe and Raphael Varane, who shared stopper’s duties last season, were also in the second team as Benitez tried youth product Nacho alongside captain Sergio Ramos in central defence.
The players broke for lunch after the 80-minute session, al- though Bale stayed behind, spending 10 minutes firing rocket-like shots at goal.
After resting in the afternoon, Real players returned to AAMI Park for an evening session.
With the La Liga fixtures revealed yesterday, Real players have a clear focus, opening their account away to Sporting Gijon on August 24.
The first El Clasico is at home on November 9, before the reverse fixture at Barcelona’s Camp Nou on April 4.
Benitez knows if Real is to be in the title hunt by then, the Melbourne preparation must be spot on. That’s why tomorrow’s International Champions Cup opener against Roma is more than a friendly.