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Having spent 250 million euros on reinforcements and with the final due to be staged at their own Bernabeu stadium, winning the Champions League is seen almost as an obligation for Real Madrid this season, at least by much of the Spanish media.
Kicking off their campaign, perhaps appropriately, in one of Europe’s most expensive cities, Real showed flashes of what may be to come, both in terms of attacking inspiration and defensive vulnerability, as they beat Swiss champions FC Zurich 5-2.
Cristiano Ronaldo was his old self, firing in two free kicks at decisive stages of the game, performing a few trademark shimmies and stepovers and remonstrating with the referee every time he was tackled by an opponent.
There were tantalising glimpses of the potential offered by his parternship with Raul and former World Player of the Year Kaka, although Real often gave the impression that they are still finding their feet with so many newcomers.
The Champions League is back and our reporters are currently wringing out their wet things (Mitch Phillips at Chelsea)/basking in the evening sunshine by the River Manzanares (Iain Rogers at Atletico) and undergoing all climactic variations in between.
Tonight’s first tranche of eight matches includes a repeat of the very first Champions League final, with AC Milan visiting Marseille, plus the European debut of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka for Real Madrid, with the Spaniards visiting Zurich.
It’s hard to believe Spain striker David Villa will not be playing in the Champions League again this season.
The Valencia frontman was in irresistible form against Belgium in a World Cup qualifier on Saturday when the European champions romped to a 5-0 victory in La Coruna.
Arjen Robben arrived in Munich and passed a medical exam on Friday, scored two goals after coming on in the second half with his new teammate Franck Ribery on Saturday, and then left his new home town on Monday to meet up with the Dutch international team in Enschede.
It was a remarkable weekend trip to the Bavarian capital. In just 27 minutes Robben and Ribery — Munich’s new dynamic duo quickly dubbed “Robery” by German headline writers — combined for two spectacular goals to lead Bayern to their first win of the season, 3-0 against defending champions VfL Wolfsburg.
******Real Madrid’s expensive new team boasts an awesome array of attacking talent and huge goal-scoring potential but their defence looked worryingly porous in their opening match of the La Liga season on Saturday.******President Florentino Perez spent 250 million euros ($359 million) to bring excitement and spectacle back to the Bernabeu after two barren years and judging by Saturday’s 3-2 win over Deportivo Coruna, when Real twice surrendered the lead and created a host of chances, the fans will not be disappointed.******The return of the suspended Pepe and injured pair Christoph Metzelder and Sergio Ramos may help to eradicate the errors that blighted their performance.******However, Real’s hopes of mounting an effective challenge to treble-winners Barcelona seemingly rest on the ability of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and their team mates to score more goals than are inevitably conceded.******Sports daily Marca said in an editorial on Sunday that Real were following a script against Depor that the fans had become well used to over the years.******”An opponent with a solid back line who refuses to be intimidated by so many star players and knows how to exploit the whites’ defensive weakness but who ultimately yields to massive firepower,” the paper wrote. “This (Real) promises excitement.”******Perez’s latest creation resembles the band of “galacticos” he assembled during his first stint in charge in 2000-2006, who included Zinedine Zidane, Figo, David Beckham and Brazilian striker Ronaldo.******DYNAMIC SIDES***El Pais soccer correspondent Jose Samano said that coach Manuel Pellegrini was under orders from Perez to focus on attack because the president had grown up watching dynamic Real sides including players such as Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas in the 1950s and 60s.******”Over time soccer has become more conservative but not in the mind of (Perez),” Samano wrote.******”Manuel Pellegrini has no other option than to field as many defenders as attackers, a gamble that almost got them into trouble against Depor,” he added.******”Madrid were struggling to dictate the game and obviously won’t be a balanced and well calibrated side anytime soon but their box of tricks is limitless.”******Writing in El Mundo, Orfeo Suarez said that the new-look Real side were “terrific going forward and vulnerable at the back“.******”That’s the conclusion to be drawn from the start of the second Florentino Perez era; understandable because it’s a project under construction,” he said.******”Madrid kept Depor’s hopes alive because they are not yet a team and perhaps never will be, and some of the stars are still not firing on all cylinders.”******PHOTO: Real Madrid’s Raul celebrates his goal against Deportivo Coruna with Karim Benzema (L) and Kaka (C) during their Spanish first division soccer match at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid August 29, 2009. REUTERS/Susana Vera
The draw for the group phase of the 2009-10 Champions League has just finished in Monaco and it’s thrown up a couple of groups to savour especially.
Real Madrid getting drawn in Group C means they will face AC Milan … and that means a return to the San Siro for Kaka, who made the switch over the close season. Likewise, Barcelona’s big signing Zlatan ibrahimovic will be on his way back to Milan, after Inter joined the holders in Group F.
If reports in Spain are correct and Real Madrid have agreed to sell Arjen Robben to Bayern Munich for 25 million euros, that would seem to be an excellent piece of business for the Spanish club.
Real paid a king’s ransom to take Robben from Chelsea a couple of years ago — when £24 million pounds was a lot more in euros than it is now — and I think it’s fair to say that he didn’t quite make the impact the fans were hoping for.
Jose Antonio Reyes has some work to do to win over Atletico Madrid’s hardcore fans judging by the reception he received on Tuesday, when he came on as a late substitute at the Calderon in their 2-0 Champions League play-off win over Panathinaikos.
The tie was already over by the time Reyes was called up to replace Simao with four minutes left — Atletico won the away leg 3-2 — but he was met with a barrage of whistles from around the stadium.
Barcelona’s new signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic was given a glowing report by Pep Guardiola after their Spanish Super Cup victory over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
But the doubts remain as to whether his qualities will be enough to replace or improve upon those the side have lost with the swap deal which sent former number nine Samuel Eto’o to Inter Milan.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Raul Albiol, Alvaro Arbeloa, Esteban Granero and Ezequiel Garay have all been added to a squad that finished second in the league under Juande Ramos last year.