Herald Sun

Ben­itez gets Real

- DAVID DAVUTOVIC david.davutovic@news.com.au

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.

 ?? Pic­ture: HAMISH BLAIR ?? Cris­tiano Ron­aldo (right) bat­tles with Dani Car­va­jal dur­ing train­ing at Bun­doora yesterday.
Pic­ture: HAMISH BLAIR Cris­tiano Ron­aldo (right) bat­tles with Dani Car­va­jal dur­ing train­ing at Bun­doora yesterday.

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